The reality is that any one of us could find ourselves at risk of homelessness as a result of a life changing circumstance that threatens our accommodation such as the breakdown of a family relationship, the loss of a job, a shorthold tenancy coming to an end ...etc.
Most of us would have someone within our support network who would help us out, take us in or do whatever it takes to stop us from ending up on the streets. But what would happen if you had no-one to help you out?
There is very little suitable accommodation for people leaving prison across our region and bed spaces are few and far between. In fact the Wolverhampton Church Shelter occasionally gets last minute referrals from the probation service who are concerned that one of their service users will be sleeping rough on the day they have been released from prison. We take referrals from the resettlement team and go and meet potential residents in the prison on at least one occasion if not more.
If they are deemed suitable for the accommodation that we have to offer, then we will meet them at the gate on the day of release which is the point in time when they are at their most vulnerable. I remember meeting one young lad at the prison gate the day he was being released who asked me if we could stop at the off licence on the way back.
We take them straight to their new home, where there will be someone from the Friendship and Support Team from the church that is partnered with that house to greet them. They will have 2 weeks of food in the cupboard and the fridge, toiletries, a box of chocolates and a card on the bedside table and the church will have put money on the gas and electric for them.
Without the right support around them 1 in 2 people who are released from prison re-offend within 12 months. Of those who stay in a Hope into Action house more than 80% do not end up back in prison.
Check out a real life story here from a prisoner who went from inmate to housemate and how it changed his life...
Another cause of homelessness is the breakdown of relationships whether with a partner, family or friends. In Wolverhampton the second biggest cause of homelessness behind the end of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy is being kicked out by family or friends. Many people are sofa surfing and relying upon others to put a roof over their heads but they are continually at risk of becoming a rough sleeper from one day to the next and at the mercy of the person who is providing them with shelter. If that person decides overnight that they are no longer welcome then where do they do? Equally the breakdown of a marital relationship or partnership can lead to homelessness if you have no-one to support you through that difficult time.
One of our ex-residents came to us as a result of being kicked out by his wife. He had no savings, nowhere to go and was not working at that point having just finished his University studies. He stayed with us for a 5 month period at the end of which he reconciled with his wife and moved back in. Situations like this could happen to almost anyone and are much more common than we dare to believe.
Those struggling with debt
Debt can be another issue that leads to homelessness among both those who have no recourse to public funds and those who do. Rent arrears with the local authority can prevent you from accessing social housing. The pressures of getting letters from creditors and being hounded about what you owe can have a knock on effect on other areas of life too. It is also something that a lot of people feel embarrassed about and do not talk to friends and family about until it is too late.
One of our residents came to us as a result of mounting debt and not knowing where to start to tackle it. He is now in his own independent accommodation, has work and is enjoying life again having been pronounced debt free and learnt how to be financially independent whilst he was with us. Click here to check out his story.
If it wasn't for them I don't know where I would be now ...
Those in hostels and other supported accommodation
And then there are those individuals who are already part of the system and struggling to find a way out. Traditional supported accommodation only gets people so far. At the point when they are supposedly ready to move on from supported accommodation they are often still lacking the full panoply of life skills and responsibilities that are required to be able to maintain a tenancy in independent living. Consequently they do not manage to maintain their tenancy, fall back below the housing line and get picked up again by the system in what is commonly referred to as the revolving door phenomenon.
In these circumstances we are looking to be an additional stepping stone between traditional supported accommodation and independent living. Whilst living with us our residents enjoy additional freedom and independence. They are placed in three bedroom homes with no live in staff and are expected to look after the property, ensure that the rent is paid and be engaging with support that is available. They are however still supported by a professional Empowerment Officer and a team of volunteers from a local church. In addition to this we ensure that our rents are at an affordable level that will allow and even encourage residents into work.
In other types of more intensive supported accommodation, residents are unlikely to be better off in work than on benefits and in fact can end up worse off as a result of high housing costs and other fees. When staying with us residents are clearly better off in work than out of work and soon come to realise this. This means that they can work towards getting qualifications, in work training and eventually full-time employment whilst receiving ongoing support at the same time. Expecting an individual who is moving out of supported accommodation where there is regulation and structure and a lot is done for them to trying to maintain a tenancy in independent living and holding down a job at the same time is often a step too far for them to cope with. We provide an opportunity to grow in carrying these responsibilities whilst being supported along the way by a number of individuals. And in fact that support continues even after they have moved into their own place through the volunteers from the Friendship and Support tea who are now part of their network of support.