Save Hostels. Rebuild Lives.

    Rob, St Mungo's client

    This week, St Mungo’s launched our Save Hostels Rebuild Lives campaign, calling on the government to properly consider the damaging effect changes to funding for supported housing could have on homeless people. Take five minutes to find out why, and what you can do to help.

    Many people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness need specialist support.

    This expert support is provided by dedicated staff in supported housing – hostels – but these services are at risk.

    The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Damian Green, are planning to present proposals to change funding for supported housing to government in a matter of months.

    St Mungo’s believes these changes will cause irreparable damage to essential services and may even cause some to close.

    A route out of rough sleeping

    Full disclosure? We provide supported housing services that could be affected by current proposals, which will compound problems faced by projects already being challenged by a reduction in rent allowance that came into effect in April 2017.

    In 2016, St Mungo’s housed 4,120 people, over half of whom have slept rough. Many of our clients have multiple and complex needs, and for them, recovery is more than a roof.

    Most funding for supported housing services for single homeless people comes from a combination of housing benefit and local authority budget for support they commission.

    Supported housing under threat

    The proposals involve reducing people’s benefit entitlement, but they don’t take into account the way support is funded. They will leave supported housing services even more reliant on entirely discretionary funding from already stretched local council budgets.

    With no legal requirement to provide vulnerable homeless people with supported housing, many services have lost their funding. Analysis by the National Audit Office shows that between 2010/11 and 2014/15 funding for housing-related support fell by 45% across single-tier and county councils. [1]

    There are many reasons to be concerned by this. One argument is that without the right support at the right time, people can get stuck in damaging cycles of homelessness, making recovery all the more difficult. Another is that causing the reduction of available places in supported housing makes no economic sense.

    The existing proposals suggest a cap on housing benefits based on local housing allowance rates, which is tied to rent levels in the private sector. This does not take into account the reality that the costs of providing supported housing are similar across the country.

    St Mungo’s believes that basing the system purely on Local Housing Allowance rates will provide little incentive to develop supported housing for homeless people in low rent areas. This would create a situation whereby availability of supported housing could be limited in places where it would be easier for residents to find affordable housing when they are ready to move on.

    A funding system that does not take into account local demand – or does not ensure that need is properly assessed – not only ruins lives, it is more expensive. Research published by the National Housing Federation found a shortfall of 16,692 places in supported housing for working-aged people in 2015/16. The research estimated that in the last financial year, the shortfall in supported housing places cost the taxpayer £361 million. [2]

    The right support for recovery

    “Making the service fit the need is really important.” – Rob

    Rob told me how he spent 20 years bouncing between sofas and services ill-equipped to help him recover and properly manage his mental health. Finally, he came to a service we run that worked for him. He’s since moved into independent living, is engaged to be married and is working as an advocate for homeless people.

    We know that sometimes people find certain environments challenging. Sometimes, people move between services because their support needs have changed or because services close.

    Recovery is a process, and moving into supported accommodation after living on the streets can be a difficult transition, but these services save lives.

    We are urging the Secretaries of State for Communities and Local Government and for Work and Pensions to:

    • Develop a sustainable and secure new funding system that helps vulnerable people get off the streets for good
    • Introduce a legal requirement for local authorities to assess need and plan for appropriate supported housing provision in their area
    • Ensure that the system is fully transparent and accountable to central government

    With the right support at the right time, people can recover and rebuild their lives after being homeless.

    Sign our petition to #SaveHostels here

    [1] National Audit Office (2014) The impact of funding reductions on local authorities

    [2] National Housing Federation (2017) Strengthening the case for supported housing

    StreetLink helps people sleeping rough off the streets

    In 2015-16, the StreetLink referral line received in excess of 60,000 calls and web reports from people concerned about people sleeping rough. This resulted in 20,374 referrals of people sleeping rough to outreach teams across England. Matt Taylor, StreetLink’s Team Leader, explains how the service works.

    StreetLink is a national referral website service that enables the public to alert local authorities in England and Wales about people sleeping rough in an area. The service is run in partnership between St Mungo’s and Homeless Link, and funded by grants from the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Greater London Authority and the Welsh Government.

    Here’s how it works in more detail.

    Making a referral

    Each day and night, a central team of around eight people, including four volunteers, answer calls and follow up website referrals from the public. In peak times, StreetLink can receive as many as 700 alerts per day.

    When a referral is received, the information is sent by email to either the appropriate local authority or the outreach team in that area to action.Many local authorities have outreach teams, these are not managed by StreetLink, but by separate organisations – these go out to look for people in the locations given at night.

    Outreach workers report back with an ‘outcome’ within 10 working days. If requested, Streetlink will send an update to the person who made the referral.

    Our volunteers

    The service relies on volunteers to help run it. They come from all kinds of backgrounds, and some have experienced homelessness themselves. In the words of a current volunteer: “It’s great to be part of a service that you know works, and which for many is the first step in helping people off the streets”.

    What StreetLink cannot do

    StreetLink is not an emergency service. Although local authorities and outreach teams aim to act on referrals as soon as they can, response times vary from area to area, depending on the resources available, but 2-3 nights is probably average.

    Several areas do not have dedicated independent outreach teams. Where this is the case, they send the referral to the council’s Housing Options team and ask them to follow up.

    Challenges

    High levels of calls mean that sometimes StreetLink does not have the capacity to answer immediately. That’s why they ask you to use their website or app for referrals whenever possible.

    To make sure rough sleepers can be found by the outreach teams, the StreetLink team need to know the exact location that people have been seen sleeping. For example, “I saw someone sleeping in XX Park. Enter the park via XX Road. Ten yards in is a toilet block. They are in a bush directly behind that block”.

    In addition, StreetLink will always take the following into consideration:

    Time – outreach teams go out at night or in the early hours of the morning. If the rough sleeper is not seen by the referrer during these times it is unlikely that the team will be able to locate them.
    Activity – Unfortunately, outreach teams cannot verify someone as rough sleeping if they are begging, and not actually bedded down.
    Location – from experience, exposed locations such as famous landmarks, ATM machines and busy pedestrian streets are not typically where people will actually sleep.

    The end result

    StreetLink works. Since December 2012, around 25,000 people have been connected to local services and over 4,000 have been found accommodation as a direct result of their referral to StreetLink.

    Thank you to all who have used StreetLink or downloaded the app. Spread the word, and if you’re in London and can commit to four hours a fortnight and, please do consider volunteering for the service.

    “Its been the best year of my life”

    Image: Kevin Farrell, client of St Mungo's

    At the 2017 Skills for Care Accolades St Mungo’s has won Best Employer Support for Apprenticeships. As National Apprenticeships Week draws to a close, Kevin reflects on how his year as an apprentice has changed his life.

    I see myself as a holistic therapeutic practitioner. I love art and yoga, I enjoy photography. I enjoy getting involved in projects, working in collaboration with other organisations and charities. I’ve done stuff with Café Art and HAGA.

    I’m a people person, I enjoy seeing people move forward with their recovery. I am a person with lived experience of homelessness. Great fulfilment for me is when I see people climbing up the ladder and moving forward with their lives.

    ‘Surviving by any means possible’

    Life was very chaotic for me from a young age. I come from a large Irish family. I lost my mum to cancer when I was 12. From then I was out of control.

    I didn’t really have any discipline, I have five older brothers who were no angels. I wasn’t living in a good environment. It was not uncommon for a 12 year-old to smoke cannabis. That was just the environment we came from.

    We weren’t a rich family but we survived by any means possible. I’m not proud of the things I did. I know a lot of it was done in survival mode. I never intentionally went out to hurt anyone, and I never did. I sold drugs for a number of years. I got caught and I did a prison sentence. I’m not ashamed of my past.

    When I came out of prison in 2009, I was housed at a St Mungo’s hostel in Central London. I was there for six months.

    I was not abstinent, still messing about in illegal activities. From there, I was rehoused through St Mungo’s rent deposit scheme.

    ‘Living in the fast lane’

    I held it together for a couple of years. I went back to work in the catering field. I again became dependent on alcohol and started to use Class A drugs. Then I went to rehab again.

    I used to work in management in the catering field. That kind of environment is fast paced. People tend to get involved in a lot of activities with drink and drugs. That’s just the way it was for me, for many, many years.

    I’d been at it for quite a number of years in the fast lane, working for a high end catering company and working sometimes 60 or 70 hours a week. It took its toll. My only means [of coping] was indulging in bad behaviour, which had an impact on my mental health – not surprisingly.

    ‘Out of the darkness’

    In 2012 I came out of the darkness. I’ve not had a drink or drug since. I remain abstinent.

    When the opportunity for the Apprenticeship came up, I was told by the people I was volunteering for, “Kevin, it’s about time you got a job. You’ve done everything you need to do now”. I’d done a lot of volunteering for St Mungo’s for two years, in hostels and as the lead service user representative. I had completed a psychology qualification, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Smart Facilitative training. I’d also had a number of years of sobriety under my belt.

    I was really primed, I came for the interview and it happened all in a flash. Then I was offered the role.

    Being an apprentice gave me an opportunity to gain experience in the drug and alcohol recovery field, which is what I’m specialising in. Over the year, I was running groups and holding one to one sessions with clients. I held a client caseload of up to 15 people, it’s been really full on.

    ‘More than I expected’

    The St Mungo’s Apprentice Scheme is the best thing to have ever happened to me. It’s been a lot more than I expected. The amount of support I received from St Mungo’s is massive. Massive!

    I work with other people in the same field from other organisations, they don’t get the same level of support. Here you get line managed very well.

    As an apprentice, you attend ‘Reflective Practice’ – an opportunity for a group of apprentices to get together, sometimes with a therapist, to ‘offload’.

    You get rid of the good, the bad and the ugly in a confidential environment. It is an opportunity to soak and air views, especially when I had been struggling and needed help.

    In the early days I was struggling with some of the IT. I took that to reflective practice and some of the apprentices helped me out. They pointed out that I was not silly.

    ‘I’ve had a positive impact’

    I’ve not reverted back to my old life because of connecting to people; socially, spiritually and physically. I started a relationship with my partner, which is very special to me.

    There’s also fear – fear of going back because I know where it took me – to a really dark place but I know my biggest asset is my lived experience.

    I use that experience to empower other people that I work with. I couldn’t envisage going back to that life again. I enjoy being me. I enjoy my life too much now.

    I feel a lot of serenity around my life now. I still have my bad days, don’t get me wrong. I still swear and bark every now and again but in general I try to lead a peaceful life and empower people.

    I’ve just finished the year’s apprenticeship with St Mungo’s Haringey Recovery Service. It’s been the best year of my life. I’ve had a positive impact. Now I’m going to help run Shine, a social enterprise in Haringey.

    To find out more about St Mungo’s apprenticeship scheme click here.

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