‘This has changed my life. I’ve been addicted to heroin for 20 years; this is the first time I’ve put my hands out for help.’ These are the words of a man in his mid-30s who was interviewed by Riverside after being brought in off the streets of Manchester as part of ‘Everyone In’ – a project that has transformed the lives of thousands of people.
On 26 March, Luke Hall, the minister for local government and homelessness, wrote to every local authority in England asking them to urgently accommodate every person sleeping rough on the streets.
As one part of their response to the largest health epidemic in 100 years, England’s 343 local authorities have helped to bring in more than 5,000 people off the streets and provided care and support to 15,000 vulnerable people.
Riverside has supported more than 600 people affected by homelessness living in hotels in London, Manchester, and Liverpool during this national health emergency.
As one of the country’s largest providers of housing for those affected by homelessness, we wanted to capture the responses of people to emergency measures brought in during the COVID-19 pandemic.
From the interviews we conducted we believe ‘Everyone In’ has not only transformed lives, but it also has the potential to transform the way we care for people who were sleeping rough. This is what we found:
l–The need for speediness: Securing quick wins for people is important to help them to feel comfortable, settled and moving them away from life on the street.
Access to some services such as prescriptions and Universal Credit have been accelerated during COVID-19.
As a result, residents and care and support staff are less inhibited by bureaucracy and we have been able to address the urgency of people’s situation for housing and medication more quickly and effectively.
This has helped people to begin focusing on their recovery more quickly.
Structure and engagement: Early on staff identified the challenge of keeping people engaged so they did not abandon the hotels.
Addressing substance misuse early on has been an important factor in engaging with people so they have not been bored or frustrated during COVID-19.
This has enabled people to regain their interest in things they used to enjoy such as arts, crafts and sports.
This will be more difficult to apply in post-crisis mainstream provision but the presence of security staff and limiting time outdoors has prevented people from going back towards negative or damaging behaviour and has contributed to the project’s success.
Residents, many of whom have had chaotic lives for many years, have also embraced the structure of having set times of the day to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner which has helped get them into a positive routine.
This routine has also generated a sense of shared experience and community among residents.
Quality of accommodation: Interviewees, many of whom have tried to get indoors before, have highlighted the quality of the accommodation as a key factor in the success of their recovery.
Hotel rooms have helped some people to overcome their preconceptions that larger-scale accommodation is less welcoming and less personal.
We know from experience that housing and supporting larger numbers of people in one place works very effectively, but having the ability to offer newer facilities improves people’s wellbeing.
To refresh facilities, providers like ourselves do not necessarily need a lot more money. However, we do need the certainty and stability of long-term support contracts so that we can invest in accommodation without the worry that funding will run out in the very near future and require our buildings to be repurposed for other uses. Some of the results we have seen have been surprising.
In the provision of services for those affected by homelessness the direction of travel has been that large temporary supported housing accommodation has not been as effective as providing personal accommodation for people through initiatives like Housing First.
However, the comments we received from hotel residents’ disputes this. Residents say they enjoy the community and those that struggle can be helped and encouraged by residents that are doing well.
We know from experience that Housing First can achieve exceptional results, but it is not for everyone. This is why care and support must be psychologically informed by the needs of each person rather than the adoption of a one-size-fits-all approach. Larger-scale accommodation does work very successfully and helps to overcome the lack of housing supply.
COVID-19 has necessitated a quick response but ‘Everyone In’ has shown that people have benefited from some of the emergency measures brought in.
We need to work together to embed these practices to provide better care and support for those affected by homelessness in the coming years.
John Glenton is executive director of care and support at Riverside