Is now the time to end homelessness for good?

COVID19 has created many huge challenges but it too has created incredible partnerships and projects.  With 90% of rough sleepers now off the streets, has there ever been a better time to make homelessness history?

Director of Support and Wellbeing Melanie Dunn believes so… 

Here at Concrete our mission is to make homelessness history. It’s a big statement but we’re not alone in achieving it. We’re part of a national movement tackling homelessness from the inside out, addressing the factors that cause it as well as giving people the tools and knowledge they need to prevent it. The arrival of COVID19 may have created major challenges but it’s also produced some incredible outcomes and opportunities…

In March, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) announced a project to accommodate all rough sleepers and protect them from contracting coronavirus. Concrete were a part of this project and quickly began housing people in a local Holiday Inn, providing our usual holistic, person centred support. It’s believed 90% of rough sleepers are now off the streets. Incredible news, but why should this stop? How can we let this amazing work slip away? We must build on this positive step and show that with the right approach, the right support homelessness really can become history.

The project has presented the best opportunity yet to end homelessness for good. It’s born out of what we know already works and influenced by experts in the field, but more importantly by people who have experienced homelessness, people who know how it feels to be deprived of a home of their own. We must now create a solution for the long term and recognise that everyone should have the right to a safe and secure home and a place where they can feel part of a community. Homelessness isn’t a choice. It can happen to anyone. Together, we must fight to prevent the risk and change the reality. We can’t keep creating short-term, temporary solutions. We need a long-term plan to ensure no one sleeps rough, everyone has a safe and secure place to live and those at risk of homelessness have the right support to prevent it.

The MHCLG project to protect those rough sleeping during the coronavirus outbreak created a new partnership for us here at Concrete. We teamed up with Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Holiday Inn hotel and WALK Ministries; a peer led service that walks alongside men in recovery. Over 50 people, who were homeless or in temporary settings that put them at increased risk from COVID19, have moved into the hotel. On site 24/7, wellbeing and mental health support is available alongside essential items such as food and toiletries.  The project has helped us reach new customers as well as creating a more diverse offer with partners to include primary health care and mental health support.

We expected to be housing rough sleepers and those in night shelters but we’ve actually seen young people, people who have experienced relationship breakdowns and the ‘hidden homeless’  including those sofa surfing.  The biggest shock has been the number of females seeking support. 46% of our residents are female which is massive compared to the national average of 16%. Women often feel unable to access support or don’t feel safe in male-dominated shared accommodation. The fact that women feel they can access our support and are staying with us is amazing, especially as they are more susceptible to exploitation when living on the streets. Sadly, 3% of residents are care leavers who have either been asked to leave by parents or guardians or whereby their housing circumstances have broken down during the pandemic.

Once the project ends we’ll be finding safe and secure homes for all. Although this won’t be easy we have lots of great partnerships throughout the City and support from RSLs (registered social landlords) and private landlords too. Finding a home will only be the starting point, we’ll provide a full support package to give each resident the best chance to make a successful move. So often people are told where to go and that the offer of accommodation comes with conditions which create barriers and often sets them up to fail. Our approach at Concrete is completely different – we see the person first. We give people a voice and a choice, and empower them to make their own decisions. This approach has worked incredibly well for us, only 3% leave before planned, a statistic that is usually much higher.

Our main challenge will be availability of homes. The government has promised 6,000 new homes and some current supported housing customers will be ready to move on, but this won’t be enough. When the full effects of the coronavirus outbreak come to light and the ‘no eviction’ law ends there could be thousands more finding themselves without a home, or needing to find a new, smaller home. With this in mind, we’re calling on all landlords to support us. We currently work with some fantastic landlords with a real social heart but we need more. We can’t do this alone… there needs to be a movement of change! Change in people’s perception, change in the support provided and change to the barriers preventing our customers from thriving.

Another challenge will be losing new partnerships. At the moment our customers are receiving physical and mental health support from two practitioners who are travelling to our customers. This may seem small, but many customers have cognitive difficulties usually from a head injury during childhood or violence related from living on the street, so travelling to multiple different locations can be incredibly challenging. Bringing the support to them has been invaluable but both practitioners are government funded and their support isn’t guaranteed.

Recently, national charity HomelessLink have launched their #EverybodyInForGood campaign lobbying the government to rethink their current policies and funding, with a mission just like ours – to end homelessness and make it history.  Looking at their recommendations for national and local government I completely agree especially; investing in long-term funding, focusing on good practice in local areas and support for women and young people.

Long term funding is essential. With this new project we have found people a temporary place where they feel safe, have support and can open up about their life and  see their future.  With the support of partners and a staff team that includes peer mentors, we have given people the opportunity to see that things can be different. It would be injustice to not build on this, to take away supportive relationships formed and hopes of a better future.

We can’t let people return to how things were before, and deprive them of the opportunity to have a home of their own. The work we have done locally and nationally means people’s lives have been saved but long term funding is needed to create secure stable homes with support wrapped around.

It’s so important to build on the partnership work we have created through the project too. Floating support; support that follows and ‘sticks with’ the person, is especially important as is housing-led and housing-first approaches to make sure we have the right approach to fit someone’s needs. Moreover, supporting women and young people is crucial and close to our hearts here at Concrete, as domestic abuse charity Glow is part of our Honeycomb Group family. Women are incredibly vulnerable and are much more likely to be exploited resulting in physical and mental trauma. Women are less likely to seek support too and get stuck in horrendous situations – sofa surfing and being exploited by others.

Looking at the local government recommendations I again agree, especially with investing to increase the supply of genuinely affordable housing and developing a full costed transition plan. Local rent charges are a barrier and so is quality. We don’t believe in substandard homes – we believe in places we would want to call home ourselves. Although the government has pledged 3,000 homes this year, stats from the NHF and Crisis show 90,000 homes per year for the next 15 years would be needed to overcome homelessness and ensure people thrive, not just survive. With support from Homes England we’ve recently converted a large shared property in dire condition into 5 high end one bed flats with our partner Staffs Housing. Converting shared accommodation into individual quality homes is an ideal solution but the key to success is a full transition plan with plenty of support. It’s not just the bricks and mortar but the wrap around support which empowers and transforms people’s lives.

So what’s next for us here at Concrete? In the next five years our ambition is to create 600 new homes in our local area, prevent 250 people at risk of becoming homeless and raise awareness of homelessness to over 1,000 young people. This is a real-home, real-change movement, going beyond the bricks and mortar to create systematic changes that address, not plaster over, the real issue. The coronavirus outbreak may have created new challenges but it too has created incredible projects and partnership work which has proven that with a different approach we CAN work better together and end homelessness for good. Here at Concrete housing will always be a right, not a privilege and we will keep fighting until everyone has a stable, secure place they’re proud to call home.

To find out more about Concrete visit www.thisisConcrete.org.uk or Twitter.com/ConcreteFuture.