South Yorkshire Housing Association‘s Co-Director of Care, Health and Wellbeing, Charlotte Murray, shares more information about their growing partnership with ASSIST – a Sheffield based organisation who work with people who are seeking sanctuary and who have been refused asylum.
I’m a firm believer that no human – or organisation for that matter – survives alone. Together with Jochen Kortlaender (Accommodation Manager for ASSIST Sheffield), South Yorkshire Housing Association hopes to deliver a new feasibility study called Filling the Void, which has been funded by Crisis.
ASSIST Sheffield provides accommodation, information and other support. ASSIST has a 17-year history of amazing work with asylum seekers in our city. For the past two years, as part of our work as a Homes for Cathy member, we have been working with ASSIST and learning from their expertise to help contribute to ending migrant homelessness.
We’re not alone. In 2007, Sheffield became the first City of Sanctuary in the UK and, in addition to ASSIST Sheffield, lots of organisations now take pride in the welcome it offers to people in need of safety and the provision of exceptional services and support.
Covid-19 has been hard for everyone, but for people with no recourse to public funds – and the organisations that support them – it has been crippling. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the night shelter that ASSIST ran in a church hall in Sheffield had to close and remains closed. This previously provided essential emergency night-time accommodation for people who had no recourse to public funds.
The Filling the Void feasibility study does what it says on the tin. Working with ASSIST, and drawing on insight from NACCOM and others, over the past two months we’ve been looking at the feasibility of using SYHA properties that are void (empty) to provide short-term emergency accommodation via ASSIST for asylum seekers.
In theory this sounds straightforward and a total no-brainer but, as with any good feasibility study, the devil is in the detail. Luckily, we’ve been guided by expert project manager, Oliver Chamberlain, who has extensive experience of working with both ASSIST and SYHA in the past. In addition, our two years partnership with ASSIST has ensured that the Filling the Void project is building on a firm relationship, trust and understanding between housing (SYHA) and ASSIST.
So what have been the challenges? The feasibility is ongoing but the main things so far include:
Housing availability/location. We don’t have many void properties in central Sheffield that aren’t turned around very quickly and re-let. Demand is higher than ever.
HMOs. To ensure ASSIST can meet the demand for emergency accommodation, and asylum seekers can support each other, HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupation) are desirable. These properties require additional safety requirements. Transforming a general needs property into an HMO is too time-consuming and expensive to provide short-term accommodation.
State of properties. Often properties are void because they require major repairs and are unsuitable for habitation.
Bills, insurance, lease agreements. Smaller issues including who pays the council tax and utility bills on the property and how the management agreement should be formulated to ensure compliance have presented challenges.
Despite this, we have identified a couple of HMO properties in Sheffield which are void, and would otherwise remain so, as SYHA assesses them for disposal or redevelopment. We’re working with ASSIST on the details but hope that these properties will provide much needed short-term emergency accommodation via Assist for people with no recourse to public funds in Sheffield. This will be especially important as we exit from Covid-19.
We’ll keep working with ASSIST on the Filling the Void project and our wider partnership to ensure that we walk the talk in helping to contribute to ending migrant homelessness. Together we are stronger and we cannot walk alone.
If other Housing Providers would like to support this project, please get in touch. People can donate to ASSIST here.
Charlotte Murray, Co-Director of Care, Health and Wellbeing, South Yorkshire Housing Association
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In our latest look at how members are using Next Steps Accommodation grants, Homes for Cathy caught up with Charlotte Murray, Co-Director of Care, Health & Wellbeing at South Yorkshire Housing Association, who shared how the funding is helping replace traditional models of homeless accommodation in South Yorkshire with dispersed properties, supporting people living with multiple, complex issues to overcome their challenges.
How does SYHA work to eliminate homelessness in your local area?
At South Yorkshire Housing Association, we believe a high quality, safe and stable home is the foundation for everyone to settle, live well and realise their potential. We work with homeless people to understand their needs and issues, co-producing services which seek to address the root causes of homelessness, and providing essential services such as hostels.
We’re particularly proud of our Housing First programmes, especially our most established programme in Rotherham. In partnership with Target Housing and Rotherham Borough Council, we’re providing homes and support for 30 previously homeless people across the borough. In 2020, through funding from Homeless Link, we employed our first Trauma Informed Counsellor. Through co-design with Housing First customers, we identified an urgent, unmet need for bespoke psychological support which recognised the complexity of their lives and mental health conditions. The model is already proving highly successful and we’re training staff across other services in delivering trauma-informed approaches.
Of course, Housing First is just one part of how SYHA is working to eliminate homelessness; other services we deliver include high-quality social housing and hostel provision. Across the Sheffield City Region, we work collaboratively with cross-sector partners – from specialist charities to statutory services including local authorities, the NHS and police – to ensure a proactive, coordinated response to homelessness, which maximises our collective resources and expertise.
An issue we’re discussing a lot at SYHA is dispersed accommodation. Traditional models of placing homeless people with multiple, complex issues together in one building have simply not proved effective – it tends to increase, not decrease, the challenges homeless people are seeking to overcome, such as conflict, violence, and substance misuse. Finding cost-effective and scalable solutions to replace the model is one of my top priorities.
Being a Homes for Cathy member is important to SYHA. Having a forum to discuss ideas around homelessness openly with other housing associations helps ensure we’re taking on board latest practice and evidence. Equally, we can share what we’re doing with others, which often sparks further conversations and sharing of our approaches. Could you explain about the background to your NSAP bid?
Following the Government’s ‘Everyone In’ campaign, in 2018 Crisis published the Everyone In: a plan to end homelessness report. In the report, Crisis lobbied Government for funds to support dispersed supported housing models including Housing First – something, given our own Housing First programme and interest in dispersed housing, we were delighted to see.
When the report was first published, a key goal for SYHA was to work with local authorities across Sheffield City Region to roll out the Housing First model further. We sent the report to our contacts at each local authority and arranged meetings with them to discuss their appetite for working in partnership with SYHA to help deliver some of the recommendations from Everyone In.
The Government then launched the Next Steps Accommodation Programme. Although we welcomed it, and the much-needed capital and revenue funding it potentially provided, it was disappointing that the timeframes restricted our ability to deliver any capital projects. Additionally, some of the restrictions in the fund didn’t support models with high fidelity to evidence-based Housing First principles.
By that point, there was growing need and momentum across Sheffield City Region, and we’d built good relationships with the local authorities. Collectively, there was real interest in trying to use the fund to provide the best supported housing solution possible. SYHA therefore decided to join forces with a number of local authorities to support their bids for the first year of the programme.
What were the outcomes of your Next Steps bids?
We’re now working with four local authorities: Chesterfield, Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley. Due to the limitations of the year one funding round, we kept the scale small, but we know from our Housing First work in Rotherham that these partnerships often grow.
In partnership with Chesterfield Borough Council (CBC), we’re providing Housing First to seven people across the Borough. The service started in October 2020 and will run initially for 12 months. CBC provides the homes and SYHA provides the support element of the service. In January 2021, CBC confirmed it would like to extend the service and work with an additional seven customers. This has been part-funded through the Next Steps Accommodation Programme and there are aspirations for the service to continue long-term.
Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council (RMBC) has been successful with its bid to the Next Steps Accommodation Programme to provide interim accommodation and support for customers identified as having a low-level mental health diagnosis and who have been displaced as a result of Covid-19. SYHA will work in partnership with RMBC to deliver ‘Clara Place’, a new homelessness service which will provide a home and support for ten customers. The service started in November 2020 and will run initially for six months.
Through Next Steps Accommodation funding, our Housing First service in Rotherham, delivered by SYHA and Target Housing for the last three years, has now increased from 25 to 30 customers.
SYHA has an agreement in place with Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council (DMBC) to provide 5-10 properties for Housing First, with the Doncaster Complex Lives team delivering the support.
Finally, we’re also in early talks with Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council about the feasibility of establishing a Housing First service for 10-12 customers across the borough from April 2021.
What services will the funding deliver?
From SYHA’s perspective, the funding will support a mix of dispersed supported housing, small block housing, and move on accommodation. Working creatively, wherever possible we’ll adhere to the principles of ‘High Housing First Fidelity’, including providing a home for life where we don’t have capital restrictions or can swap properties in and out; providing good choice for customers when selecting a property; and a low ratio of customers to key workers for support.
For future years of the Next Steps Accommodation Programme, we’re seeking to work in partnership with local authorities to bid for capital funding to ensure we can increase the supply of good quality 1- and 2-bedroom homes across Sheffield City Region in the most popular areas.
What are the main challenges of delivering this type of service?
The Next Steps Accommodation Programme has several limitations, such as a maximum stay of two years, rather than a home for life, limited property choice and limited length of revenue funding, making these projects short-term. We would like to see revised guidance which addresses these issues, and which also helps to ensure the right support is provided to customers, including taking a strength based and trauma informed approach including providing staff and customers with access to a trained counsellor. In future, we would hope to encourage good links with other agencies and providers to ensure holistic support for customers, for example helping them to register with a GP and foodbank, as well as making sure the tenancy is sustainable by providing debt support, furniture packages, and money to start up a home including connected energy services within the property.
We believe there needs to be a requirement for providers of services to co-produce services with customers affected by homelessness, and the people and organisations which support them. We would also like to see an end to evictions of customers affected by homelessness.
What were the key learnings around putting together the bids?
Although the timeframes meant the process felt rushed, the Next Steps Accommodation Programme was great in enabling us to collaborate with local authorities to solve a shared problem.
We’d like to provide more homes through the fund, so we’re hoping that the next round will provide longer lead-times that our development team can meet. Finding land is difficult and purchasing secondhand properties has limitations due to supply and the need for future retrofitting to meet the green agenda and EPC standards.
Longer lead times are also critical to ensure good supply of 1- and 2- bedroom dispersed properties, so we can meet demand and offer choice to customers. We’re hoping that there’ll be clear guidance about whether properties can be swapped in and out should a tenant want to stay.
What positives did you take from the process?
The overwhelming positive has been the shift away from shared accommodation and clustered, high-density accommodation for people affected by homelessness, which mirrors SYHA’s own strategic direction. The emphasis on dispersed supported housing has opened up conversations with local authorities for us and we’ve built new, growing partnerships.
Although the Next Steps Accommodation Programme falls short of some of the recommendations in the Crisis report, ‘Everyone In’, and hasn’t yet enabled us to work in partnership with local authorities to deliver high-fidelity Housing First programmes at scale across Sheffield City Region, it is certainly moving the homelessness strategy forward in the right direction.
After witnessing adults returning to his association’s temporary accommodation scheme who had lived there as children, Tony Stacey calls on the sector to address poverty and homelessness
I have worked as South Yorkshire Housing Association’s (SYHA) chief executive for 23 years now. For the whole time – in fact since it was founded 45 years ago – SYHA has focused on addressing homelessness. Other things too, but homelessness has always been high up on our radar.
“I like to think I am pretty well in touch with the situation locally. But nothing prepared me for this.”
Last week, I was told by our LiveWell support team that we are now regularly seeing new customers for two of our temporary accommodation schemes in Sheffield – used by the council as an alternative to B&B referrals – who had lived there as children.
The accommodation is a good standard – in fact when Jon Rouse led the Homes and Communities Agency, he described one of our projects as the best designed scheme he had visited that year. Nevertheless, we now find ourselves managing an across-the-generations revolving door. And I am not talking about one or two families, this is now a regular occurrence.
Our response to this, for me, reinforces our answer to the SYHA ‘why?’ question, which is: “With SYHA you can settle at home live well and realise your potential.” Think whole person, think whole place. And we do.
I hear a lot about how associations are sweating their assets, but less about how they stretch themselves to offer choices to customers which can get them out of poverty and break this vicious cycle. Shouldn’t our stretch extend to addressing homelessness and poverty?
We have just had our Regulator of Social Housing in-depth assessment. The conclusion was: “Goodness, you people are really going for it.”
One of many things housing associations, GP practices and NHS Trusts have in common is that we’re rooted in the communities worst affected by health-related unemployment. We work in them, get sick and get better in them, and raise our families there. Achieving fairness in employment outcomes for people with physical and mental health conditions is therefore our fight too.
A good job is a healthy outcome. The healthier we are, the more resilient we are. The more resilient we are, the less we are likely to slide into homelessness.