Working in partnership to rehouse rough sleepers

Steve Benson is Chief Executive of Two Saints Housing Association
Steve Benson is Chief Executive of Two Saints Housing Association

Steve Benson, 01 July 2020

Our work in helping to find accommodation for homeless people during the coronavirus crisis has underlined how effective partnership work can be, and we’ve seen this effectiveness hit new heights over the past few months.

No one would argue that this has been an incredibly challenging time for everyone. As lockdown now begins to ease, I’ve been reflecting on both the challenges and the opportunities that have been presented, the lessons we’ve learnt and changes to the way we work that we’ll take forward for the benefit of our staff and residents.

I’m incredibly proud of the resilience and fortitude of our staff. Our frontline team have been outstanding, adapting to a new way of working as if it was ‘just another day at the office’, continuing to offer the vital support to the homeless and vulnerable people we work with. 

The importance of partnerships has never been more evident. As the instruction came in to find temporary accommodation for all rough sleepers, we were ready and willing to support our local authorities with this challenge. It’s amazing what can be achieved when we all work together.

In Hampshire we’ve worked with the county council, all the local housing authorities, the two city councils, health organisations, a number of general need housing associations (Aster, Radian, Sovereign and VIVID) and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government. This work is delivering a shared vision for both short term and longer term service provision that will be driven by close partnerships with our colleagues from a broad range of sectors, including health.

In Portsmouth, rough sleepers have been temporarily housed in two hotels. The delivery of the service has seen us work with former ‘competitors’ in an open and transparent way to support the needs of homeless people, jointly coming up with solutions to operational problems. The hotel work has allowed local authorities an opportunity to understand first hand some of the situations our frontline staff face on a day-to-day basis, which has helped them to be more appreciative of the work we do to support the most vulnerable people in our communities.

In Southampton, our day centre, which has been in operation since 1962, had to close to the public when the government advice was to avoid contact with anyone outside your household. With the help of our staff, more than 30 people were provided with temporary accommodation in the first week of closure. Together with Southampton City Council, our staff continue to support outreach teams to identify rough sleepers, get them into accommodation and support them to stay there. The food service normally offered at the day centre was provided to clients in temporary accommodation in the form of weekly care packages funded by the local authority.

On the Isle of Wight, the creation of an integrated mental health hub, to support the mental wellbeing of people during the crisis, happened fast. The NHS sourced premises that could accommodate several agencies and we all had to move very quickly into a new building.  The speed and efficiency with which that this happened was phenomenal, and within two weeks several teams had relocated in one hub. Based in Newport, the hub is manned by a range of professionals from the Isle of Wight NHS Trust, Isle of Wight Council and our Safe Haven, all working together to offer both face-to-face and virtual support. As part of the wider transformation programme, this facility will continue to develop as the new wellbeing hub for the island.

Looking forward, we’re actively working with our commissioners to avoid rough sleepers being returned to the streets when hotels reopen to the public. It’s becoming clear that the previous emergency bed system is no longer fit for purpose and hostel provision will look much different in future.

Can Housing First form part of the solution?  This housing option has received a lot of publicity in the UK recently as an effective approach to house entrenched rough sleepers.  Two Saints are not new to this model and we’ve continued to develop our expertise in this area and now deliver the service in Andover, Berkshire, Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight. We work alongside our general needs partners including Aster, Sovereign and Vivid who supply the housing element of the service.

Our reputation for delivering successful Housing First has been recognised at national level and we’ve produced a short video here to explain the service and the successes. 

All in all, the past few months has seen a sense of joint working that just was not there prior to the crisis and this has to be built on so we don’t see a return to rough sleeping.