As a housing association, tackling homelessness is an intrinsic part of why we exist, and one that has never been more important for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities during the pandemic.
What springs to mind when the word ‘homeless’ is mentioned is often rough sleeping, but being homeless includes much more than this simple definition. We’ve been working closely with our local authority partners to house everyone in urgent need, including:
- Victims of domestic abuse and people fleeing other forms of violence
- Cases of severe overcrowding or where people are living in unsafe accommodation
- Residents who have health challenges or who have children and require temporary supported accommodation following an eviction or change in circumstances
- People moving on from temporary accommodation
- Those who require discharge from hospital to free up bed space for others
Of course we do work with rough sleepers too, and in Bath & North East Somerset (B&NES) we’ve collaborated with the local housing partnership to provide accommodation options for rough sleepers in B&NES during the pandemic. We also have a new contract in South Gloucestershire to provide a Housing First offer there and in North Somerset to extend our homelessness services. In B&NES we’ve been able to identify safe accommodation where rough sleepers can self-isolate, via flexible use of tenure and relaxing the usual criteria for access.
- One rough sleeper has been housed in a sheltered scheme guest room, awaiting appropriate permanent sheltered accommodation.
- Two properties have been converted from general needs accommodation to temporary accommodation to meet the specific needs of two households in crisis.
- We’ve continued to deliver the B&NES Housing First project, in partnership with DHI and Julian House. Since March 2020 three rough sleepers have been given supported tenancies through Housing First with eight more Housing First properties commissioned for the coming year.
- Two of the most challenging rough sleepers in BANES have been housed in temporary accommodation as a pathway into the Housing First project; it’s great news that both have far exceeded expectations in how they’ve managed their accommodation.
We’ve continued to work remotely to provide services, ensuring we can get empty properties ready to let and enabling local people to move into a new home. This means that since March we’ve been able to carry out more than 200 lettings.
During lockdown our local authority partners had to suspend their normal ‘Choice Based Lettings’ systems, and applicants have been directly matched to vacant properties. This has ensured that those in the most urgent need have been able to access safe accommodation. Many of these new residents have experienced very challenging circumstances and we’ve provided additional support to settle them into new homes at short notice.
We’re committed to supporting our residents sustain their tenancies and we’ve made it clear that no one will be evicted as a result of hardship caused by COVID-19.
During the pandemic we have also provided a number of additional services including:
- Provision of 1,800 hot meals to residents in temporary and supported accommodation
- Phone calls to 1,200 vulnerable residents to check on their wellbeing, ensuring they were safe and had access to food and medicines
- Completed 900 essential visits to residents in sheltered accommodation
- Increased contact with residents settling into new-build estates to ensure the community settles well
- Support for more than 400 people to transition to Universal Credit
Case study 1
One of our tenants got in touch to let us know that she had been furloughed from her job as a chef. Part of her pay came from food sales, which meant that her furlough payment only provided 60% of her salary rather than the usual 80%.
She felt embarrassed about her circumstances; she needed support to pay for food and bills and was deeply worried about losing her home. Our job was to re-assure her that we would not take any action for rent arrears and that we could help. She was reluctant to use a food bank so we organised a supermarket voucher which was emailed directly to her – and this really helped while she waiting for her benefit award to come through – the five week wait for Universal Credit is long when you have very little income.
We’ve been able to confirm that she can access a DHP payment from the Local Authority to clear her rent arrears in full, and protect her tenancy moving forward. She is relieved and is working with our Money Advisor on some other debts that have built up whilst on furlough to prevent any further issues. She’s now back at work and has no rent arrears – so is very happy.
Case study 2
A former rough sleeper housed in temporary accommodation speaks with our support staff daily about how overwhelming it has been for him to be offered even somewhere temporary to stay. After three months he is still adjusting and worries that he could be asked to leave at any moment.
He has also commented on how strange it is for him to have somewhere to store and prepare food. Since moving in he has been able to easily access GP appointments and has remained stable on a methadone prescription. He’s also doing well under probation and has found that with the stability of somewhere to stay he can gradually begin to address his personal traumas. We are focusing now on finding the right property for him for the long term.