Supporters club

A government reprieve for supported housing means this vital form of accommodation for vulnerable people can now continue

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Throughout his 17 years of homelessness, Phil would frequently feel a powerful urge to move on. “I’d get what I call ‘walking feet’ – where I’d have to go somewhere new. It’s eight months since I’ve had that feeling though,” he says.

“I’ve slept on the streets, been to jail and stayed in hostels but none worked for me. This place has been brilliant though – I haven’t looked back since getting here.”

Now aged 52, Phil learned about the Orchard – a supported housing community that helps people move on from homelessness – through a day centre in Scunthorpe. Within a week, he was offered a place.

He now spends much of his time recycling furniture in its workshop and is getting help to tackle his drinking.

He says: “I’m content at the moment. I work every day and love my job. I have a reason to get up in the morning and I know there are staff and other residents here to support me.”

“I have a reason to get up in the morning and there are staff and other residents to support me.”

Phil is one of 28 mainly male residents currently living at the Orchard, which opened in 2014 and is part of a network of similar centres run by the charity Emmaus Hull. Built in association with Together Housing, on land donated by Hull City Council, the centre houses and trains people who have been homeless for as long as they need. The centre is one of many of Together Housing’s supported housing schemes across Yorkshire, Lancashire and Derbyshire.

Residents – known as “companions” – are required to sign an expectations agreement upon arrival, pledging to work towards personal goals during their stay.

The place has a zero tolerance policy for drugs and tests at random, and all residents also have a daily breathalyser test. Those caught using drugs or alcohol must leave but are welcome to return when they are ready.

Everyone living there spends 40 hours a week working at one of the charity’s social enterprises – which include a café, the workshop and a furniture superstore – and courses in maths, English, first aid, mental first aid and conflict resolution are available.

Residents get £35 a week in cash, and £5 a week is put into a fund to help them when they move on. Emmaus also provides meals, TV and internet, work uniforms and toiletries.

Supported housing provides a home to some of the most vulnerable members of society. It includes any housing scheme where accommodation is provided alongside care, support or supervision, to help people live as independently as possible in the community.

It covers a range of different housing types, including hostels, refuges and long-term supported living complexes for older people or those with learning and physical disabilities.Many are owned or managed by housing associations.

Until recently the government was threatening to remove refuges and other short-term forms of supported housing from the welfare system – meaning residents would not have been able to pay their rent using housing benefit, which will become obsolete after 2022.

However, plans to introduce grant funding for short-term supported housing and a “sheltered rent” for longer-term and extra care housing were shelved in August after claims that the changes would have led to the closure of many women’s refuges, where housing benefit typically makes up about 50 per cent of their revenue.

Above: Phil, who loves his job. Main image: Darryl arrived at the Orchard in Scunthorpe on release from prison

Announcing the U-turn, the government pledged to develop a robust oversight regime for the sector – something that is currently lacking. It also announced its intention to review funding for the support services in supported housing, which is already under huge pressure.

Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid, welcomed the move but urged the government to ensure adequate funding for support service.

The National Housing Federation, meanwhile, has launched the Starts at Home campaign, which aims to tell positive stories of people who have gained independence, confidence and stability through supported housing. It aims to keep pressure on the government to invest in supported housing and is also trying to create an alliance of organisations and politicians to back up these calls.

As part of the Starts at Home campaign, Together Housing has written to MPs across Yorkshire, urging them to champion supported housing in Parliament.

Henry Gregg, member relations director, says: “After years of doubt about funding, it is so welcome that the government has decided to protect supported housing funding by keeping it within the social security system. This follows a vocal and successful campaign from housing associations and the people who use these vital services, showing ministers the importance of supported housing. It’s vital that we protect the support that hundreds of thousands of people need by right, giving them the security and stability they deserve.”

Emmaus Hull is currently reliant on housing benefit but there are aspirations to break free of this dependence. If the charity’s social enterprises become profitable residents would no longer need to claim the payment, just as they are currently asked not to claim any other benefits.

Kelly Meacock, community leader, says: “Social enterprises have always been part of the ethos of Emmaus but there’s definitely more pressure to become independent now. A number of longer-established Emmaus communities in the UK have become self-sufficient as a result of their businesses becoming sustainable. That’s the goal.”

Other supported housing providers are also grappling with funding challenges. The social landlord Your Housing Group – which owns a number of young persons’ foyers in the North West – has pledged to maintain and build on its service, despite a growing financial squeeze on the local authority funding upon which it partly depends.

The organisation is set to increase its deficit allowance from £2.5 million to £3.5 million to ensure the service continues and high standards are maintained across its 12 sites. The service currently employs 120 staff but this number is likely to increase.

Its foyers – which offer accommodation and support to people aged between 16 and 25 who have been made homeless – are partially funded by Supporting People, a government programme helping vulnerable people to live independently, as well as Intensive Housing Management and learning and charity supporters.

Supporting People funding is distributed by local authorities – but since 2009 the money has not been ring-fenced, allowing councils to chip away at what is available, and the money is now rolled into the single grant given by central government to local authorities.

Like at Emmaus centres, taking a place within a foyer involves some give from residents – who must work to meet goals and follow an agreed action plan. The maximum stay is two years.

Young people cover their rent using housing benefit and are expected to contribute a small weekly amount to pay for living expenses and as part of learning to budget. Those who work receive a top-up of up to 25 per cent from Your Housing Group to cover the shortfall as their housing benefit is then reduced or withdrawn. This is intended to encourage residents to stay in work rather than rely on benefits.

At Ravenhead Foyer in St Helens, which opened in 1997, manager Glen O’Hare says most residents have become homeless due to family estrangement but many also need support with other problems.

“Quite a lot of young people present with mental health issues, which can range from low level depression and social anxiety to quite serious and difficult issues such as Asperger’s, autism or schizophrenia,” he says. “We try to meet the needs of the young people who come to us – we are a multidisciplinary team and do a lot of day-to-day support and guidance through our counselling team – but youth offending, mental health and substance misuse are not things we specialise in. We find outside partners to support people through these kinds of issues.”

Ravenhead has 32 residents and also runs an outreach programme which can support 12 people for up to two years after leaving. As well as getting housing, help with things like making appointments and technology such as wifi, residents are expected to undertake some form of learning or training.

Before they move out, young people are helped to find suitable accommodation in the local area and with things like keeping on top of utility bills and making sure they access all funding available.

Andy Ward, who leads the young persons’ service for Your Housing Group, says: “As much as anything, what we do is help the residents create a network within their communities, to help them become independent.

“We try to look at what the young person can do rather than what they can’t. When people arrive, they often don’t want to think about where they want to be in two years’ time – they want to look at the crisis. But to live here there’s a deal – it’s not just about getting a roof over your head. Our staff work with these young people and help them develop.”

The bulk of what is provided by the organisation is still funded by Supporting People but on occasion it has stepped away if the commissioners’ vision differed too greatly from its own.

Ward says: “The funding has reduced and reduced and reduced, to the point where I’m actually amazed Supporting People still exists. In one case we felt the way the funding from the local authority changed would have taken us a bit too far from what we wanted to deliver as a foyer, so our organisation agreed to cover this [shortfall].

“Ultimately the golden nugget would be to work effectively with a council and stop the revolving door [of homelessness] by helping young people to become independent. This is not the kind of quick fix that local authorities want though.”

Back at the Orchard, Meacock says that for some residents to even be there after a decade-plus of rough sleeping is a feat in itself.

There is no time limit for stays but after around a year an assessment is carried out to see whether or not people are ready to think about moving on.

Staff have links with local employers and landlords to encourage a move to independence and in the past year several people have gone on to jobs and properties of their own or shared houses. One even moved back with his own family, which is a significant result.

Darryl, 35, an Orchard veteran of almost two years who arrived on release from prison, has achieved his Level 2 Food Hygiene certificate and City and Guilds in cycle mechanics. He is now bidding on social properties in the hope of moving on in the not-too-distant future.

He says: “In a hostel you have a room and that’s it but there’s a community feeling here and it’s given me a reason to get up in the morning. I’ve got my work ethic back and my self-respect back. The staff here have restored my faith in people after what I saw on the streets.”

Out of their shells

Connor, 19
Ravenhead Foyer, St Helens.

“I left home at 16 because it was abusive, and after two years of living with my ex-partner I moved here. I’ve been here about a year now.

“When I arrived I was at college, then I enrolled on the Prince’s Trust. Staff then helped me look for a job. I now work rehabilitating people who have had brain injuries.

“You get quite a lot of support from staff at the foyer – they’re always there if you need them.

“I think for me this place has been really important – without it there’s a real chance I could have ended up on the streets. When I arrived I wasn’t confident and they couldn’t get me to say anything but now they can’t shut me up.”

Sam, 26
Bridge Foyer, Chester

“I’ve been here for four months – before that I was in another form of supported accommodation with people of all ages, including elderly people. I’ve moved here
for support with developing my life skills – things like budgeting, and mental health support. They’re helping me in lots of ways to live independently. I’m also getting help learning to cook and took part in a football team, which helped increase my confidence.”

Kieran, 22
Bridge Foyer, Chester

“I was living with my mum until four months ago but it was not going well. It was my job coach through Universal Credit who found me a place here. When I arrived I was very shy and wouldn’t come out of my room for about two months, except for meetings or if needed to go to the shop. I slowly worked my way out of that and gradually started to get more confidence.

“Foyer staff will help me with reading a letter and they help me set up meetings and courses. I’m now on a traineeship which will help me with my English and maths and have done some work experience at a café in Chester. I’m definitely a lot more outgoing and willing to do whatever pops up now.

“My goals are simply to get my own flat and my own job. I’d like to aim for woodwork or joinery, so I can say I tried.”

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