By Ineke Poultney at Inkyworld:
See No Homelessness, hear About No Homelessness, We Need To SHOUT About Homelessness!
Homelessness is an issue which affects us all in one way or another. Either through being homeless ourselves, or through coming into contact with the effects of homelessness, eg, seeing people sleeping in doorways, etc.
So you would think that councils would be happy to spend a large proportion of their budgets either preventing homelessness in the first place, or, helping homeless people find shelter, food, jobs, etc. You would also think that Councils would be prepared to pay for the manpower and resources to enable them to do just that.
After all, if you think about it logically, it is in the best interests of councils to get people into housing and employment in order for them to pay Council Tax, etc, to fund the budgets of the aforementioned Councils. Or have I missed something somewhere?
Is it really a case of the most logical solution to homelessness being to sweep the problem under the carpet and pretend it doesn’t exist (and, if you cannot completely sweep it under the carpet, change the goalposts and the criteria for being classed as “Homeless”).
If you happen to be a member of Leicester City Council I already know you have chosen the second option.
“Action Homeless” is a charity in Leicester who was set up to help homeless people. They have approximately 8 funded hostels for homeless people (including one for survivors of Domestic Violence, and one for people with long term alcohol dependency). They also have some non-funded “halfway houses” for reintegrating people.
Homelessness happens for all sorts of reasons and to all sorts of people (some of who may need more support than others with getting back on their feet).
Leicester City Council (like all councils) has a legal obligation to accept an application from anyone they have reason to believe is homeless. Oh, and by the way, “homeless” doesn’t just mean living on the streets or in hostels. Being “homeless” or “threatened with homelessness” can mean you staying in “crisis accommodation”, at risk of violence in your own home, living in unsuitable accommodation, living somewhere which is extremely overcrowded, living in conditions which put your health at risk, etc.
However, Leicester City Council have decided in their great “wisdom” (I would more honestly class it as “stupidity”) to cut the funding they gave to Action Homeless specifically for supporting people by 60% and reduced the amount of time a homeless person can stay in a shelter or hostel to 4 months.
The 60% cut in funding is bad enough. The result of this will be to stop some of the work that Action Homeless do regarding preventing the potentially homeless actually becoming homeless in the first place.
The other effect will be a total restructuring of the provision of support to the homeless themselves in the shelters and hostels.
The premises structure and the support service structure have been completely separated (to the point where “never the twain shall meet” – I am not joking – the premises teams have been told to leave the “supporting” to the support service – even if a premises team member is the one who the homeless person has the first contact with when they have a problem).
I will leave the premises teams out of this and concentrate on the Support Service Structure (as I find this the most worrying section).
The Support Service Structure will have two team coordinators with two support officers each. Each Support Officer will have 12 Clients.
As for “Service Delivery”?
The most vulnerable will get 6 hours support each week – with the least vulnerable getting 4 hours support each week. However this will not all be one to one support (group support and Telephone support will be included, etc). I wonder if the Telephone support is going to be provided on local call rates or if it is going to be an 09 Premium Rate number they have to ring???
As for the Support Services staff having any Housing Management responsibilities? Forget it! (Is it just me or is there something seriously wrong with this?
There will only be three hostels with 24 hour cover provided by the Premises Team (great if you want something mopping up or mending, but not so great if you need help with sorting your personal business out, or you are upset, in a mental health crisis, etc.
If the above isn’t bad enough Leicester City Council would appear to either have found a magic formula for making problems disappear without help, or they have managed to find a time machine.
Allow me to explain;
For Leicester City Council to class someone as homeless takes three months and it takes 12 weeks to process a housing application.
So – how on earth is someone supposed to be rehoused in the four months specified by Leicester City Council in the new Contract? timewarp? blackhole?
The major danger with the 4 month time limit for rehousing is that some people could be pushed through the system before they are ready (and they have the necessary packages in place if appropriate to help them). This means they may fall back into the same old cycle without meaning to.
When I was thinking about this blog post I asked someone who knows what they are talking about if there was any provision of mental health services included in the provided support. The answer came back “No”. They would be put in touch with their own community psychiatric nurse if they needed it but that would be on an individual basis. (Apparently having full time Mental Health services was found to be too expensive.)
However, there was one thing which struck me (and stuck in my head). The person I spoke to said the most useful person to have on the staff would be a “Grief Counsellor”. Either to help come to terms with the causes of their homelessness or to come to terms with the loss of routine, structure, etc, when someone becomes homeless.
I am still convinced that there is power in the old saying “Prevention is better than cure”. We need to start by educating people about homelessness and how to avoid it before they even look like they might be in danger of losing their home.
However, I definitely think that councils are treading a very fine line legally when it comes to the right to be treated as a human being whether or not you have a roof over your head and four solid walls around you.
I have written this piece about the cuts that Leicester City Council is forcing on Action Homeless simply because it is geographically closest to me. As one of the staff at Action Homeless said today – at least they have got 40% of their funding. Other councils have completely done away with the provision of services for homeless people.
I want to leave you with one final thought if I may.
Leicester City Council has spent a lot of money on vanity projects (and the failed bid for the “UK City of Culture”). I wonder how different things would have looked if the money spent on the different vanity projects had been put into Action Homeless and other homeless services instead? Or even services preventing homelessness to start with?
See more of Ineke Poultney’s writing on Inkyworld at: