Professionals and a service user offer advice on a case involving a disabled ex-serviceman facing eviction and no place to go
Cedric*, 55, sustained multiple fractures and lost his left leg after an explosion eight years ago.
As an ex-marine, he had been employed to protect western oil workers in Saudi Arabia.
Following a lengthy period of rehabilitation, Cedric re-learned how to walk using a prosthetic leg. He has an unsteady gait and struggles with steps.
For long distances, Cedric propels himself using a wheelchair. He is able to meet his basic personal care needs independently, using a perching stool, grab rails and a raised toilet seat.
Emotionally, Cedric struggled to adapt to his impairments. He drank heavily, fell into debt and his wife left him five years ago.
Until recently, Cedric lived in a housing association flat, but was evicted after amassing rent arrears. He is currently living in a homeless hostel.
Cedric is due to be evicted in the next four weeks. The hostel is closing, having lost its Supporting People funding.
The one remaining night shelter in the area is inaccessible to Cedric because of steep steps.
The local housing department has said that it is unlikely to house Cedric, because he is intentionally homeless due to his rent arrears.
Unless alternative accommodation can be found, Cedric may soon be sleeping rough.
*Name has been changed
THE PRACTITIONER VIEW
Carl O’Riordan, social worker, Derbyshire Council
Cedric has lost much – his wife, career, home and his left leg. He should be supported to build a new life for himself, but his immediate need for housing must be addressed first.
I would work with Cedric on various strategies, in the hope that at least one of them would help him to avoid street homelessness.
First, I would complete a community care assessment with Cedric and consider whether we have a duty to provide him with residential care.
Although Cedric may be unable to meet his personal care needs on the streets, I suspect he would be ineligible because, essentially, he would not trigger a need for residential care but for his lack of appropriate housing.
I would seek evidence to challenge the housing department’s decision that Cedric is intentionally homeless. Under the Housing Act 1996, housing departments do not have a duty to house disabled people who were at fault in losing their tenancies.
If we found evidence that Cedric had been under exceptional pressure or lacked necessary support when he was evicted, the housing department’s decision should be reversed. I would certainly assist Cedric to find a housing law expert to scrutinise all judgements, including my own.
I would support Cedric to find a private tenancy, and enquire whether we could assist the night shelter to provide a ramp.
Before I qualified, I worked in homeless hostels and was frequently heartened by the solidarity and practical support that non-disabled homeless people shared with their disabled peers.
THE MANAGER VIEW
Bev Capel, service manager, Derbyshire Council
Social services’ default responsibility to house people would only arise if Cedric is assessed as in need of “residential accommodation”, in accordance with the National Assistance Act 1948.
Unfortunately, the law says we should not house people such as Cedric solely due to their lack of accommodation.
Housing is Cedric’s primary need as it would appear that he is independent and able to look after himself with the use of minor aids and adaptations. However, assessment should be undertaken to ensure that any eligible needs are met.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is all too common in disabled veterans. Not only is the disability a daily reminder of what the veteran has lost, but adapting to Civvy Street can be an uphill struggle.
This can result in alcoholism and depression, which can lead to broken relationships and financial ruin.
The judgement that Cedric is intentionally homelessness is potentially questionable. He may have been experiencing feelings of hopelessness and been unable to summon the motivation to respond without support. Also, the presence of mental health issues may not have been identified by the housing department.
Cedric’s GP could be approached to support an appeal if any evidence that this is the case could be provided.
Of course, a more proactive approach with Cedric would have been beneficial when he first went into arrears. Advice from the local authority may have opened up a gateway to universally available support, which could have prevented Cedric’s homelessness.
This could have included timely referrals for debt counselling and alcohol support.
People with disabilities can just as easily find themselves in need of homeless hostels as anyone else.
THE SERVICE USER VIEW
Simon Heng, disability rights activist and wheelchair user
Before my own disability, I worked for many years in a voluntary organisation that aimed to help people with drink problems.
It was a never-ending source of sadness that so many of our clients were ex-armed services.
Since becoming disabled myself, I wasn’t surprised to find that many people dealt with acquiring their disability with alcohol or drugs. Either way, Cedric is far from being an isolated case.
Neither a physical impairment nor an alcohol problem are easy to deal with without a strong personal commitment to change your circumstances, and your coping mechanisms, particularly when you’re probably using the one to cope with the emotions of the other, in part.
One possible step that Cedric could take would be to both acknowledge his drink problem and express his desire to do something about it.
He’s certainly eligible for a residential rehabilitation unit, either hospital or community-based, which would meet both his immediate need for accommodation and, to use the language of many rehab programs, help him take the first steps towards rebuilding his life.
Surely some of these must be accessible to people with physical disabilities?
Details of residential units nationwide would be available from the local community alcohol team, or alcohol advisory service: either might be best placed to make the initial referral.
The alternative – sleeping rough with possible stays in “wet” hostels if he continues drinking – is the bleakest, and possibly shortest, of futures.
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This article is published in the 14 April 2011 edition of Community Care under the headline “A step away from being on the streets”