Every year, we hear a lot about homeless people, especially rough sleepers, in the lead up to Christmas. It’s particularly poignant to think of people who are cold, lonely, fearful, hungry and without hope, when the rest of us over indulge with friends and family. So, the TV cameras come out, and we dig deep for the charities that dispense a little Christmas cheer, and feel a little less guilty – maybe.
And while our donations, and the excellent work charities and others do with rough sleepers and those in hostels, are no doubt life savers, they are not life changers.
That is why society needs to realise that homelessness is much more complex, and cannot be solved by a bed for the night or a hot meal. In saying this, I am certainly not demeaning the important role this plays – it does save lives, and is often a pathway to something better. But homelessness is something we have to work at long term, every day, despite every setback.
Taff allocates 40% of all its lettings to homeless people each year. So for us, understanding the causes and challenges is vitally important if we are to prevent it happening again. That is why we set up a small Support Service in the late 1990’s, because we recognised a home on its own was not going to be enough for some people to overcome some of the traumas experienced which had led to their homelessness. Now, our various Support teams help over 1200 people (including 200 homeless families) a year to resolve their housing difficulties and to live independently in a successful tenancy.
Our services help people with a range of issues, often one person will have multiple hurdles to overcome.
· Care leavers
· Debt problems
· Drug & alcohol misuse
· Domestic abuse
· Mental illness/ depression
· Lack of parenting skills
· Chaotic lifestyles
· Lack of qualifications and job opportunities
The housing staff and support workers are the life changers – they will dig deep to identify the underlying issues, agree goals with the client, and work relentlessly towards them. It’s not a linear process! It doesn’t always work, and often it takes longer than anticipated, but it’s a joint effort – we stand side by side with our clients and help them up when they stumble. We don’t have all the answers or all the skills – so, we weave a bespoke network of support around each client, using colleagues from other agencies and disciplines, to make sure no gaps are left unfilled. Housing Support Workers are orchestrators, coordinators, brokers and advocates.
They have stamina and staying power, which is needed to make sure that when someone finds a home, they never become homeless again. For us, this would be a massive failure – evictions are a last resort, and although we only made one last year, we want to do better.
Our Support Workers mostly work with other people’s tenants, or people who are in the homelessness process, but we also provide accommodation for specialist services. These include refuges for women fleeing domestic violence, care leavers, people with learning disabilities, refugees, recovering street drinkers, young women, mothers and babies. In total, we provide accommodation for 160 people, where they will be given specialist help to move towards independence and safety.
So, this New Year, I’ll be raising a toast to the unsung heroes of homelessness, the Housing Support Workers, whether they are helping rough sleepers and saving lives, or whether they are working all year round to change lives and build better futures.
Homelessness for Taff is not just for Christmas, and our work is definitely not just housing
For a real life story of one woman’s journey from homelessness to happiness, see our BusinessPlan.pdf