Homeward bound

It is never easy for ex-offenders to gain a
foothold in society and become members of the community, but one
multi-agency scheme in Middlesbrough is trying to put them on the
right road by teaching them basic life skills. Natalie Valios looks
at the 12-week supported housing programme.

Offenders on probation can sometimes end up
back in prison not because they have deliberately breached their
probation conditions, but because they haven’t been able to read
the letter telling them what to do.

The purpose of a multi-agency scheme in
Middlesbrough is to teach ex-offenders all the basic life skills –
including reading and writing if required – that they need to
become socially included in the community.

The Building a Better Future scheme is run by
Project 404 for men over the age of 18 who have a history of
offending, addictive behaviour and/or a housing need.

It was devised several years ago to address
the problem of ex-offenders accessing mainstream housing in the
area. The intention was to offer a service to people who wanted to
change and make a difference in their lives, but whose background
gave them little scope to do so, says Project 404 manager Jackie

Ex-offenders are never going to be top of a
housing provider’s list of ideal tenants, and with their background
a mainstream tenancy would not normally be available. The Building
a Better Future scheme is about giving ex-offenders the chance to
prove they deserve the opportunity to be included in the community

The 16-bed supported housing scheme provides
clients with a 12-week residential programme to support them in
changing their way of life and help them address any financial or
addiction problems.

Referrals come mainly from the probation or
prison service, although individuals can also self-refer. An
admissions panel studies each client’s details before any decision
is made to accept them. If they aren’t accepted there are other
supported housing projects and services in the locality that they
can turn to. If it is felt that the scheme is not working out for
an individual once they have started on it, staff support them to
move onto the books of one of the other housing providers in the

Schedule 1 offenders and anyone with a
drug-dealing conviction are automatically excluded from the

It is imperative that clients have made a
positive decision to alter their lifestyle, says Stockley. “They
have to address issues surrounding any addictive behaviour. If they
are an offender they are required not to reoffend while on the
scheme. If they have any former arrears with previous tenancies we
expect them to sort that out as well. This is because the scheme is
about the future, so they have to lay their past to rest.”

If a resident does reoffend while undergoing
the 12-week programme, they are asked to leave. It may sound harsh,
but there is good reason for this stringency: once a client has
successfully completed the programme they are offered a mainstream
tenancy. As one of the scheme’s aims is to promote community safety
it does not want to place within that community someone who has
failed to change their offending behaviour.

“We are trying to create good citizens by
helping them with their own personal development and giving them
basic key skills. Paramount to everything we do is community
safety,” Stockley emphasises.

The programme revolves around a structured
environment, concentrating on the individual. Most of the work is
done with the support of a link worker on a one-to-one basis,
although group work also plays a fundamental part.

Treatment programmes, particularly for drugs,
are vital. Many of the residents have offended only to fund their
drug habit.

A drugs worker from the Addictive Behaviour
Service and two tenancy/ training support workers support the
scheme, and residents with a drug problem can also register with a
local GP whose practice provides services for drug users only.

A relapse prevention group is also run, and
random drug tests are carried out to ensure residents are sticking
to their agreement. Those with an alcohol or gambling problem join
suitable treatment programmes.

“The regime is designed for those who will
work with it. It is a supported housing project and more, because
they have to show commitment before they come in. They have to show
that they want to change,” says Stockley.

Tenancy support workers also run a group once
a week. And there is a weekly residential meeting to ensure that
residents feel involved within the project during their time there.
Anyone on probation or community service orders has to fulfil the
conditions and attend relevant meetings.

The Working Links organisation helps residents
with education, training and employment, advising them of ways to
get back into work, accessing training courses and preparing CVs.
Basic skills including literacy and numeracy, and social skills
such as budgeting, cooking and cleaning, are also taught.

“It’s about positive reinforcement of their
lives, how they can get something good from some of the bad
experiences in their lives,” says Stockley.

The life and social skills education helps to
give residents the know-how needed to maintain a tenancy. But if a
resident is unable to read or write, then teaching him or her
anything else can be fairly useless, says Stockley.

“We don’t assume anything about their level of
ability when they come to the project,” she adds.

The average age of offenders accepted by the
scheme is 29. Out of the 16 residential places available, there is
generally a significant number who cannot read or write. At the
moment, this stands at one in three residents.

There is an array of reasons for their lack of
education, from abusive or difficult backgrounds, lack of parental
encouragement to go to school, to exclusion or lack of

“Being unable to read is not something that
they shout from the rooftops. It’s kept a secret because it doesn’t
do their street cred any good,” explains Stockley.

Residents can either attend a local college to
learn how to read and write, or they can ask for assistance from
the scheme’s staff if they don’t want other residents to know.

At about eight weeks into the programme a
review panel meets with the partner agencies to discuss whether the
scheme is working for an individual. Here independent reports are
presented from the addictions nurse, link worker, tenancy support
worker, Working Links, and the individual residents themselves. If
all areas are being met, the client is approved for a tenancy.

The support doesn’t stop once the 12 weeks is
over, though. Staff continue to visit former clients for a further
six months to help them settle into their own homes.

“It’s about setting them on the right track,”
says Stockley.

Project profile

Project: Project 404.

History: The project is part of Stonham
Housing Association, a specialist provider of care, support and
enabling services in the Home Group, which is a provider of housing
and community services. Stonham works in partnership with 160 local
authorities, 50 probation services and many health authorities to
provide support to vulnerable and socially excluded people in the
community, including those with mental health problems and care
leavers. Its support ranges from registered care homes to floating
support. Project 404 is managed by Stonham Teesside and has been
running for about 20 years. In 1999 it decided to set up the
Building a Better Future scheme within the project, targeted
specifically at promoting social inclusion in the local area.
Working in partnership with Teesside Probation Service, the
Addictive Behaviour Service, Middlesbrough Council and Stockton
Council, the scheme’s aim is to address the back-to-basic skills
needed by ex-offenders, often with addictive behaviour and/or
housing needs, to help them become socially included.

Funding: The single regeneration budget until
October 2002 as well as part-funding from Teesside Probation

Staff: Manager Jackie Stockley, four project
workers, two tenancy training support workers, and an addictions

Clients: Men aged 18+ with a history of
offending behaviour, substance misuse, and housing needs. They must
have a connection with the areas of Middlesbrough or Stockton, and
want to be housed in these localities.

Contact: Jackie Stockley, manager, Project
404, 404 Marton Road, Middlesbrough TS4 2PB. Tel: 01642 292004.

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