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After homeless housed during pandemic, North Staffordshire charity calls for end to issue for good

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A North Staffordshire charity is hoping the support given to get people off the streets during the coronavirus pandemic will have a lasting effect.

Concrete was amongst organisations awarded funding to take people off the streets and give them accommodation at the start of lockdown in March.

Working with partners including the city council, they have been able to house them in a local Holiday Inn. 

From here, they have been able to offer them the advice and support - from financial to emotional - that they may not have otherwise been able to access.

One of the surprises that has come from the programme was the amount of women who sought support.

Nationally, around 16% of those accessing help are female - but for Concrete, 46% are women. 

As lockdown begins to lift, questions have been asked about what happens next for those who have been helped over the last three months.

Director of Support and Wellbeing, Melanie Dunn, says it is time to make homelessness history.

She said: "Once the project ends we’ll be finding safe and secure homes for all. Although this won’t be easy we have lots of great partnerships throughout the City and support from RSLs (registered social landlords) and private landlords too.

"Finding a home will only be the starting point, we’ll provide a full support package to give each resident the best chance to make a successful move. So often people are told where to go and that the offer of accommodation comes with conditions which create barriers and often sets them up to fail.

"Our approach at Concrete is completely different – we see the person first. We give people a voice and a choice, and empower them to make their own decisions. This approach has worked incredibly well for us, only 3% leave before planned, a statistic that is usually much higher.

"Our main challenge will be availability of homes. The government has promised 6,000 new homes and some current supported housing customers will be ready to move on, but this won’t be enough. When the full effects of the coronavirus outbreak come to light and the ‘no eviction’ law ends there could be thousands more finding themselves without a home, or needing to find a new, smaller home. With this in mind, we’re calling on all landlords to support us.

"We currently work with some fantastic landlords with a real social heart but we need more. We can’t do this alone… there needs to be a movement of change! Change in people’s perception, change in the support provided and change to the barriers preventing our customers from thriving.

"Another challenge will be losing new partnerships.

"At the moment our customers are receiving physical and mental health support from two practitioners who are travelling to our customers. This may seem small, but many customers have cognitive difficulties usually from a head injury during childhood or violence related from living on the street, so travelling to multiple different locations can be incredibly challenging. Bringing the support to them has been invaluable but both practitioners are government funded and their support isn’t guaranteed.

"Recently, national charity HomelessLink have launched their #EverybodyInForGood campaign lobbying the government to rethink their current policies and funding, with a mission just like ours – to end homelessness and make it history.  Looking at their recommendations for national and local government I completely agree especially; investing in long-term funding, focusing on good practice in local areas and support for women and young people.

"Long term funding is essential. With this new project we have found people a temporary place where they feel safe, have support and can open up about their life and  see their future.  With the support of partners and a staff team that includes peer mentors, we have given people the opportunity to see that things can be different. It would be injustice to not build on this, to take away supportive relationships formed and hopes of a better future.

"We can’t let people return to how things were before, and deprive them of the opportunity to have a home of their own. The work we have done locally and nationally means people’s lives have been saved but long term funding is needed to create secure stable homes with support wrapped around.

"It’s so important to build on the partnership work we have created through the project too. Floating support; support that follows and ‘sticks with’ the person, is especially important as is housing-led and housing-first approaches to make sure we have the right approach to fit someone’s needs.

"Moreover, supporting women and young people is crucial and close to our hearts here at Concrete, as domestic abuse charity Glow is part of our Honeycomb Group family.

"Women are incredibly vulnerable and are much more likely to be exploited resulting in physical and mental trauma. Women are less likely to seek support too and get stuck in horrendous situations – sofa surfing and being exploited by others.

"Looking at the local government recommendations I again agree, especially with investing to increase the supply of genuinely affordable housing and developing a full costed transition plan. Local rent charges are a barrier and so is quality. We don’t believe in substandard homes – we believe in places we would want to call home ourselves.

"Although the government has pledged 3,000 homes this year, stats from the NHF and Crisis show 90,000 homes per year for the next 15 years would be needed to overcome homelessness and ensure people thrive, not just survive. With support from Homes England we’ve recently converted a large shared property in dire condition into 5 high end one bed flats with our partner Staffs Housing.

"Converting shared accommodation into individual quality homes is an ideal solution but the key to success is a full transition plan with plenty of support. It’s not just the bricks and mortar but the wrap around support which empowers and transforms people’s lives.

"So what’s next for us here at Concrete? In the next five years our ambition is to create 600 new homes in our local area, prevent 250 people at risk of becoming homeless and raise awareness of homelessness to over 1,000 young people. This is a real-home, real-change movement, going beyond the bricks and mortar to create systematic changes that address, not plaster over, the real issue.

"The coronavirus outbreak may have created new challenges but it too has created incredible projects and partnership work which has proven that with a different approach we CAN work better together and end homelessness for good.

"Here at Concrete housing will always be a right, not a privilege and we will keep fighting until everyone has a stable, secure place they’re proud to call home."

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