The news that the government will back the Homelessness Reduction Bill will be welcomed by many as an important step in reducing the shocking levels of homelessness in the UK. However, when combined with the proposed changes to funding for supported housing it raises the question of what the future holds for charities that provide services for people who are at risk of being homeless.
Over the past 3 years I have had a unique vantage on this as Director of Development at Hestia.
In that time Hestia has expanded considerably. The charity is supporting something like 60% more people a year than it was when I joined, with turnover up a fifth and staff numbers up by around 40%.
The ways in which Hestia has expanded are suggestive of some of the routes charities working with people at risk of homelessness will need to consider if they are to continue to be viable, in the context of reduced local authority funding and reduced income from rent.
New ‘client groups’
While it is certainly true that local authority funding for traditional models of supported housing such as hostels has been squeezed, there are other sources of funding for specific client groups that have not felt the pinch to the same degree.
Hestia is now the largest provider of outreach support in the country to people the Home Office terms ‘victims of modern day slavery’. Hestia also now provides 5 safe houses for this client group. Other organisations have had success in providing ‘recovery houses’ or ‘crisis houses’, that provide short term support to people either to prevent the need for admission to a mental health ward or following admission.
Successfully identifying emerging ‘client groups’ in this way will be a key skill for supported housing charities who want to continue to provide high quality support to people at risk of homelessness.
Learning to speak ‘health’
A number of Clinical Commissioning Groups and Mental Health Trusts are, at variable rates of progress, getting more involved in funding housing related interventions.
Hestia now provides support to people being discharged from hospital in Hounslow, Ealing and Central West London as well as support to people using GP surgeries in Brent. 10 years ago much or all of this support would have been commissioned by the local authorities. However, they simply do not have the funding to do so, and it is unlikely that they will be in a position to do so in the near future.
Charities that can figure out how to explain their impact to health commissioners will have a better chance of being able to sustain their work.
Moving past labels
Anyone who has worked with people who are homeless or who are at risk of being homeless will tell you that the people they work with are, much like all people, complex and varied. Anyone who has worked in supported housing services will tell you that whatever labels are applied to people (“single homeless”, “mental health”, “substance misuse”) there is not actually nearly as clear a line between the needs of the different people who lived in the various hostels.
Hestia now provides a number of services for people who are variously described as ‘complex’ or ‘socially excluded’ or similar. What this means in practice is that people can come to these services with a variety of needs and the service will still support them to live as independently as possible.
Of course, it is important to maintain specialist knowledge and skills, for example relating to mental health or substance misuse, but those charities that can provide ‘person centred’ support, that recognises the complexity and variety of people’s experience, will be in a stronger position.
None of this is to underestimate the challenges facing charities who support people at risk of homelessness. Local authority funding and income from rents will continue to be reduced even as ever greater numbers of people face the risk of homelessness.
On a personal note it’s been a privilege to be at Hestia for this time. I am moving on to be CEO of the Peel Institute, a community association in Clerkenwell. But more on that later…