Homelessness: A central London health project and short-term tenancy scheme in Shropshire each in their own way provides crucial support for those without a stable home

NAME OF PROJECT: Counselling project.
BASED: Westminster, London.
RUN BY: Homeless health team, Westminster NHS Homeless Personal Medical Services.
WORK: Counselling.

The homeless health team uniquely offers short and long-term therapy. “We offer counselling sessions in health and day centres used by the homeless, where they are more at ease,” says lead counsellor Diane Goodkind. “There is already a level of trust built up with their workers and so they respond more easily to the counselling.”

Often, incoherence and insecure states of mind have caused long-term behavioural problems. “During counselling we try to
establish a safe, understanding ‘space’, in which our clients can begin to explore their emotions and give expression to their feelings. Most importantly, I believe, we are able to work at their speed.”

The team helps to identify submerged problems, which can undermine and continue to damage people. “We offer tools to help stabilise clients at moments of crisis preventing spirals of decline and the repetition of circular, self-damaging patterns of behaviour,” says Goodkind, who believes multi-disciplinary teamwork is imperative for counselling to be its most effective with this group of clients.

“I have frequently heard external counselling services state that you cannot work with people who are not motivated,” she adds. “I do not believe this is so. If a person is willing to come and talk then we have a tenuous connection, from which a relationship can then develop. However, we recognise that for some the process may begin and progress slowly.”

For more than seven years Patrick Jackson, 32, was in and out of hostels, unable to maintain any accommodation. He was so
anxious and sensitive that he would avoid anything confrontational. In social interactions he sweated profusely which for him
was humiliating and uncomfortable.

Goodkind says: “It turned out that Patrick could never get it right for his family; he was often exposed and humiliated by a grandmother who looked after him.” Patrick has been attending weekly, 50-minute counselling sessions for two years and has not missed an appointment. He has been encouraged to take temporary accommodation and to apply for his own flat.

“He is nervous yet excited,” says Goodkind. “He feels differently now. He realises that he saw everything negatively, thinking ‘I will mess up, better to disappear into the background then I won’t get into trouble’. Now he says confidently ‘I know if I cannot do something it is OK to ask for help’ .” Having struggled to “house his mind”, Patrick can now “house the rest of him”.

NAME OF PROJECT: The qualifying offer scheme.
BASED: Telford, Shropshire.
RUN BY: Telford & Wrekin.
WORK: Homelessness prevention.

The qualifying offer scheme is run by a resettlement officer who negotiates two-year tenancies with private landlords.

Housing needs manager Kathy Jones says: “They are assured that the tenant is not being left in the property without support and they appreciate having a named contact who will intervene at an early stage if the tenancy starts to break down.

“We now have landlords asking us to take their properties into the scheme. It is recognised nationally that we need to make better use of the private sector and we will be expanding this scheme to offer solutions to families who are intentionally homeless.”

The council has housed 20 homeless households through this scheme since May, at a cost of £5,191.

Sonia Saunders, 28, who lived with her husband and daughter, Kirstie, until the relationship broke down, was admitted to hospital with depression. Her husband forced a sale on the family home, which made Sonia and Kirstie homeless. They moved in with Sonia’s parents.

“Sonia was assessed as homeless,” says resettlement officer Nicola Kennedy. “We recommended a two-bedroom property through the qualifying offer scheme; anything larger would see her assessed as under-occupying for housing benefit purposes, and she would have to top up the rent.”

As the housing needs team did not have anything suitable available, Sonia approached a local estate agent, who was familiar with the scheme. The agent contacted an owner who had bought a property as a long-term let.

Impressed with the tenant’s support package, the owner agreed a minimum two-year tenancy – and has since offered further properties to the scheme. Sonia moved into her new home in May. Kennedy says: “We provide a bond guarantee of £1,000 to cover rent in advance and deposit, draw up the tenancy agreement, undertake all health and safety checks, complete an  inventory and ensure the gas safety certificate and the buy-to-let mortgage are in place.”

She adds: “Sonia has said that without this scheme she could be living a very unsettled life in temporary accommodation.

She feels that the relationship breakdown and her ill health had a very unsettling effect on Kirstie. Because she was able to select the property in the area she wanted Kirstie is able to continue at the same school.

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This article appeared in the magazine on the 26th October, under the headline Soft landings

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