Social Affairs magazine for community/voluntary sector Website: viewdigital.org
Issue 21, 2014
To mark our 21st issue, we offer an insight into the world of homelessness
Image: Donal McCann, photographer
VIEW, issue 21, 2014
omething that most of us take for granted is turning our key and going into our own home. Some familiar rituals follow, such as making a cup of tea, turning the heating on and settling down in our living room to watch some television. This is not the reality for homeless people. As a way of marking our 21st issue, we decided to devote the entire issue to the problem of homelessness in Northern Ireland and further afield. A range of voices, including the homeless, are contained within the following pages. One of the most touching is the story of Kenny and James, two homeless young people, who between them, have now lived in hostels for a number of years. They are still waiting to get a home to call their own. According to statistics from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, 4,623 households were presented as homeless to the Northern Ireland Housing
VIEW, the online publication for the community/voluntary sector in Northern Ireland.
VIEW editor Brian Pelan and sudden civil unrest also complicate the picture. The best we have is a conservative estimate from the United Nations in 2005, which puts the number of homeless at 100 million. It is certain that this figure has risen. In Northern Ireland, a number of statutory agencies and charities do their best to cope with the problem. This is
to say that more public housing stock and funds are needed to tackle the growing problem. VIEW also believes that the private rented sector is ill-equipped to solve homelessness. Talk about breaking up the Housing Executive and moving their work to housing associations will, we believe, only exacerbate the issue. The ideal solution would be to offer affordable rents to tenants on long-term leases. The law should be changed to ensure that evictions become a thing of the past, rather than the current situation where occupiers of private rental accommodation can be given 30 days to leave their homes. A recent song by US artist Steve Earle on the track ‘Invisible’ has the following lyrics; Everywhere I Go, People pass me by, They never know cause I'm invisible, A shadow hangin' low, A footstep just behind, They carry on but I'm invisible. How many of us walk past
‘Everywhere I go, People pass me by,
They never know cause I'm invisible, A shadow hangin' low, a footstep just behind, They carry on but I'm invisible’
Executive during April to June 2013. The category with the highest number of presenters (849) was those citing a sharing breakdown or family dispute as the reason for homelessness. It is very difficult to determine how many homeless people there are in the world because countries have different legal definitions for homelessness. Natural disasters
despite diminishing budgets and the prospect of further cuts to come. The Welform Reform Bill is also looming. Based on experiences of hardship in the rest of the United Kingdom, if this Bill is implemented, many more people on low incomes and dependant on State benefits will be adversely affected. VIEW does not offer a solution to the problem, suffice
the homeless everyday on our streets and rush on, occupied in our own thoughts? It's time for society to say that, in the 21st century, nobody should live without a roof over their head. This is a basic human right. The 'invisible' problem of homelessness can be defeated. The question is do we want to just try and cope with it or end it once and for all?
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Rebel with a cause
VIEW, issue 21, 2014
Una Murphy talks to Fionnuala Kennedy about her decision to write a play about homelessness based on her experiences of living in a hostel
Playwright Fionnuala Kennedy Image: Kevin Cooper
OUNG mother Fionnuala Kennedy celebrated her four-yearold daughter’s birthday in a hostel in Belfast. They found themselves homeless after Fionnuala’s relationship broke down and they were left without a roof over their heads. While she was grateful for eventually finding a flat in a hostel, the rules and regulations – including inspections carried out when she was not present, during which she was criticised for not having dusted a ceiling fan – led her to rebel. She and other women sent a letter to the organisation running the hostel but felt angry that they were not listened to. They were even threatened with eviction. So she wrote a play called ‘Hostel’ which has toured around Northern Ireland, including the Grand Opera House in Belfast and the Playhouse in Derry. Fionnuala had volunteered with Kabosh Theatre in Belfast while she was living in the hostel and staff were supportive of her writing and staging the play. “The women in the hostel had no voice and no rights so we wrote a letter to change things but no changes were made so that’s why I wrote the play – revenge, she said. “I don’t think my daughter realised we were homeless. I brought her along to a rehearsal of the play. We had to remove all the bad language as she was there and she ended up trying to direct the actors. “She celebrated her fourth birthday in the hostel and remembers some of the
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other kids there and the garden out the front.” Audiences have included staff from organisations who run hostels, trade unions, social workers as well as homeless people living in hostels. Fionnuala hopes that her play will give an insight as well as strengthen the voices of those who live in hostels. “I was in a hostel for women with young families and my experience of being
homeless is different to others. I wrote the play in 2007/2008 and I wondered if it would be relevant to other people who were homeless. They didn’t have the luxury of a nice flat or the support you get when you have a child. “But whether you are a mother or someone who has an addiction or other issues, the situation is the same. “We were invited by Charlie McGarry to performed the play at Rosemount House in Belfast where men with alcohol and drug addiction live in a hostel. The men saw the play and some were very emotional and started to talk about their experiences and the powerlessness of being homeless. They talked about how they tried to get help but were written off because they were seen as drunks or druggies. Charlie who runs Rosemont House doesn’t write them off,” she said. Fionnuala said it was a difficult question to answer when asked about a solution to homelessness. Her experience is that there is not enough joined up thinking among the organisations on the ground dealing with the issue and they are not being proactive enough to find solutions. “There are a number of preventive steps that could be taken before a person finds themselves coming close to becoming homeless due to mental or physical illness or break down of relationships. “People in the community need to be more aware and we need to know about our human rights and options”, she said.
VIEW, issue 21, 2014
Comment Nicola McCrudden, Policy and Communications Manager at Housing Rights Service, provides a glimpse into the work of their helpline
t is 10.30am and the Advice Line has been open for one hour. Our two Duty Advisers have already received seven phone calls and have had one client call into our office in High Street, Belfast. Housing Rights Service assists around 150 people every week. The families and individuals who contact us can be homeless, at risk of losing their home or living in unsuitable housing. Increasingly we are seeing people under the threat of eviction. In these situations our advisers’ primary role is to prevent homelessness. One of our advisers, Edel, picks up a call from a private tenant who lives with her four children. She has received a letter from the Enforcement of Judgements Office (EJO), in the Courts and Tribunal Service, notifying her of the need to vacate the property in the first week of February. The client, a foreign national, has difficulty understanding the correspondence. She explains that she is
working and always pays the rent on time. Edel listens intently, only asking relevant questions to get a better understanding of the situation. She realises that the property is being repossessed by the bank. The landlord has accrued arrears but neither he, nor his letting agent, has notified the tenant. In fact a Possession Order has already been granted. Edel calls the EJO to find out about the stage of enforcement and to explain the client’s situation. She establishes that the eviction will not take place on the date specified in the letter and could take months. Edel explains this to the client, provides reassurance that she will not be made homeless within a matter of weeks, but advises her to prepare to move. She makes sure the client understands the legal position and then outlines her housing options. These include alternative private rented housing, likely to incur up front costs, and presenting as homeless to the
Housing Executive for temporary housing and access to the social housing waiting list. The client’s reaction is one of relief. She agrees to reflect on her options and may come back if further help is needed. Sometimes people only need one-off advice to resolve an issue. However, everyday our legal advice team is continuously working on behalf of those clients who require further advocacy or legal representation on their cases. This is just a brief insight into one call to our service. The calls and ‘drop ins’ continued throughout the morning. Demand for housing advice remains very high.
• If you need advice, contact www.housingrights.org.uk or call: 028 90245640 or for online advice visit www.housingadvicenI.org Follow us on Twitter – @housingrightsNI
grim reality of welfare reform! year be spent Ireland £750m a y ear less tto ob e sp ent in Northern Northern Ir eland The impactt on families and business T he rreal eal impac Many have heard M any readers readers will ha ve hear d December Minister, in D ecember the UK M inister, M ike Penning’s Penning’s thr eat tha Mike threat thatt if the Northern Assembly didn’t Nor thern IIreland reland A ssembly didn ’t implementt the NI W Welfare Reform implemen elfare R eform Bill,, then £5m a month would Bill month w ould be from Northern rremoved emoved fr om the Nor thern IIreland reland Grant from month. Block Gr ant fr om this mon th.
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Members Officials December Reality’ billboard sitee near M embers and O fficials from from NIPSA held a protest protest in Dec ember by by the ‘‘Grim Grim R eality’ billboar d sit College Square East.. C ollege S quare East
Over the past few few w eeks members Over weeks may ha ve seen of the public may have ds and a number of billboar billboards advertisements across advertisements on buses acr oss Northern highlighting Northern Ireland Ireland highligh ting some of the w worst elements orst elemen ts of the NI W Welfare Reform Bill.. elfare R efor ef orm Bill w-paid Itt is a fac factt tha thatt most lo low-paid workers and those in the social workers security system security sy stem spend their money in nearby shops,, takea takeaways nearby shops ways and other local businesses. businesses. TThe he rresult esult of £650 a year every working year less for for ev ery w orking age adult of the population population will most certainly impactt on these certainly impac small, businesses,, man manyy small, family-run family-run businesses of which are already are alr eady struggling tto o keep afloat. afloat.
Does Does the Government, Government, the Assembly Assembly and those who are are backing thatt they backing this Bill not see tha will destroy destroy local ccommunities, ommunities, families and small small,, family run businesses, implementt the businesses, if they implemen Bill? Since government Since the Con-Lib Con-Lib go vernment came into power theree ha have into po wer ther ve been 43 cuts – dressed dressed up as rreform efor ef orm – which have impacted low have impac ted on lo w income families,, childr children, income families en, disabled people, income owners, people, low low inc ome home o wners, mothers and babies, babies, ttenants, enants, lone parents sick.. IItt is clear parents and the sick that that it is not the intention intention of this current government current go vernment tto o help the most vulnerable societyy and vulnerable in societ hard aree hard working working families who ar struggling to payy their bills bills.. M Many to pa any of these groups have groups of people ha ve tto o supplement byy tak taking supplement their income income b ing out payday borrowing payday loans and bor rowing from families.. from families
VIEW, issue 21, 2014
I have a standard of how I want to live. I’m never going back to that rat-ridden flat
Safe haven: A group of young women at the Shepherd’s View Young Parents Project in Derry
A young woman who became homeless while she was pregnant found refuge in a sheltered housing unit for young parents. Shannen, 20, now lives in Shepherd’s View in Derry’s Waterside with her nine-month-old baby daughter. She told Lucy Gollogly her story.
efore I was pregnant I was living in a rundown flat. There were rats in it, it was damp – it was horrible. When I found out I was pregnant I just moved out. I couldn’t stay there – you couldn’t bring a baby up there,” Shannen said. The flat, which was privately rented, didn’t even have any central heating. Shannen moved in with a relative but it was just a temporary measure. “Then I was homeless and I had to stay in a B&B. It was horrible, especially when you’re pregnant,” she said. The Housing Executive moved her into a homeless hostel in Derry, but Shannen was unsettled by the experience. “I didn’t feel safe there at all. There were lots of young people and they were always drunk,” she said. With Shannen shortly due to give birth, she was moved into Shepherd’s View Young Parents Project in the Waterside.
“I got in here right before Christmas 2012. I love it here. It’s the best place I’ve ever lived. It’s so cosy, it’s so child friendly and it’s a quiet area,” she said. “It’s a three bedroom flat. It’s lovely. It’s private. The heat is always blasting – it’s amazing. “This feels like a proper home for me.” Shannen said the staff at Shepherd’s View do so much to support her and the other young parents. “The workers are out for our best interests,” she said. “They come down and talk to me about my life and about what I’ve done. They are always there to talk to.” With her life more settled, Shannen is feeling positive about the future. She has rekindled her love of art, and was one of the young parents who helped to design a new logo for Shepherd’s View in a project funded by the Big Lottery Fund’s Culture
for All programme. “It was brilliant. I’ve done art before but it was great to get back into it,” she said. It’s just a small sign of how life has changed for Shannen, thanks to the help and support she receives at Shepherd’s View. “I moved out of my house at 15 and just lost all interest in life,” she said. “Now I have high expectations – I have a standard of how I want to live. I’m never going back to that rat-ridden flat.” The young mum hopes to take an access course and eventually study law at university. “I want to get into law and help people find out all their rights, and help them get out of debt,” she said.
• Shepherd’s View Young Parents Project is part of First Housing Aid and Support Services.
Practical advice and a sensitive personal approach. We pride ourselves on our unrivalled commitment to clientsâ€™ needs.
Edwards & Co. solicitors advises charities and the voluntary sector in Northern Ireland on a wide range of legal issues including charity creation, charitable status and constitutional matters, trading and commercial arrangements, employment law, finance, fundraising and property law, as well as dealing with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland. Our team offers a full range of legal services including mediation, wills,criminal law, clinical negligence and personal injury claims, as well as family/matrimonial work.
Contact Jenny and Teresa: Edwards & Co. Solicitors, 28 Hill Street, Belfast, BT1 2LA. Tel: (028) 9032 1863 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: edwardsandcompany.co.uk
VIEW, issue 21, 2013
Many hands make light work New group of volunteers launched to help tackle the issue of homelessness On Sunday, January 12, 2014, the ‘100 Help The Homeless’ campaign was launched – a group of more than 100 volunteers with the common goal of raising awareness, challenging perceptions and raising funds to help tackle the issue of homelessness in Belfast and Northern Ireland. They are working on the premise of “many hands make light work” to allow lots of people to make a small commitment that goes a long way in making a big difference. The proceeds of the money raised this year are going to The Welcome Organisation, Belfast who work daily with some of the city’s most vulnerable adults. Their aim this year is to raise at least £30,000 to provide an Outreach van to The Welcome Organisation to provide support for those sleeping rough in Belfast. Their motivation stemmed from the huge amount of interest within the general public wanting to help with homelessness but facing multiple barriers; some people aren’t quite sure how to go about it, others can’t commit huge amounts of time to do so, some may not fully understand the issue – so that’s where they come in. They want to provide opportunities for people to get involved and contribute to each event in their own way, perhaps through direct fundraising or providing key knowledge or contacts they feel are relevant. As a main aim, aside from raising money, they would like to give homeless service users a voice by providing them with a platform to allow their stories to be heard. Their aim is to assist this through providing guidance and training to raise awareness of the complicated issues of homelessness. They are engaging with several training organisations and hope to facilitate a homeless service user’s network throughout NI in the coming months. Members of the public wishing to help are encouraged to join, and together with homeless service users, a clear message can be sent out that ‘Homeless does not mean Hopeless’. A range of events have been scheduled, including a sleep-out at Belfast’s City Hall on June 1. A similar sleep-out last year in the same location raised around £4,000.
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VIEW, issue 21, 2014
Young and homeless By Lucy Gollogly
enny and James don’t fit the stereotypes of homeless people. The two young friends from north Belfast are smart, articulate and friendly when I meet them in a south Belfast café. But despite appearances, home for them is a Simon Community hostel. Kenny, 22, left home at 16 because he did not get on with his mother’s then partner. He lived with friends and relatives for a time but has been in and out of hostels in Belfast for the past two years. He says he had to leave the area he is from because of his drug-taking. “I was taking ecstasy, cocaine – pretty much anything apart from heroin and glue,” Kenny says. “Due to my involvement with drugs and anti-social behavior I became enemies with some people and had to move out for my own safety.” James has been in the same hostel for six months. When he first arrived, he didn’t realise Kenny was also living there and says it was a relief to see a friendly face. “It’s good to get your own freedom but it’s really not a place to be living,” James says. The hostel is for young people aged 17-26 but Kenny has previously lived in other hostels with men of all ages, some of whom were heroin addicts. “At the start I didn’t know what I was going into. I felt really scared and alone and confused. I didn’t know what to do,” he says. “When I first became homeless in February 2012 I lived in another hostel and I had to leave it because I was the victim of a sectarian attack outside it. I had to sleep with the wardrobe pushed up against the door. There was a lock but I didn’t feel safe. I was scared of the people who had attacked me outside coming in.” Things improved for Kenny when he moved to his present hostel, stopped taking drugs and started doing OCN qualifications through the Bytes project, which supports young people to get training and jobs. “Things are a lot different now. I set myself a target of getting 10 qualifications by the time I was 22. By the time I got to 22 I had 13 qualifications and I was off all hard drugs nearly a year. By the time I got to a year off hard drugs I had 16 qualifications,” he says. While James already has experience as a youth worker, Kenny is starting his OCN Level 2 in youth work in a few weeks. Both would like to go to university. “I would love to be a support worker in a hostel. I have the experience because I’ve been through it,” Kenny says. Both say finding homes for young single men like them is not a priority for the Housing Executive. “It’s only a one bedroom house you’re allowed and there aren’t any. They’ll all family homes,” James says. Kenny says: “The Housing Executive don’t care. It’s the government’s responsibility to make sure everyone has housing.”
VIEW, issue 21, 2014
Friendship: Kenny, left, and James enjoy the warmth of a cup of tea. Follow the lives of these two young men over a couple of days with a series of images – pages 12 to 21 Images: Donal McCann, photographer
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VIEW, issue 21, 2014
Comment Tom Ronning, strategic consultant of the Social Housing Department in Odense, Denmark, explains how they tackle the issue of homelessness in their city
dense Municipality has for the last four years focused their strategy for homeless people on ’Housing First’. We have now managed to reduce the number of homeless people by 47 per cent. We have also succeeded in finding housing for homeless people. Former homeless people have also stayed in their new flats and avoided falling back into homelessness. We have also focused efforts on preventive measures to break the self-perpetuating circle that often leads to homelessness. Odense supports the homeless in maintaining the apartment when they move into their home. The “Housing First” approach means that the individual relevant assistance to the citizen must be available. The municipality has together with tenants’ representatives discussed what are the common challenges. This coordinated approach has led to several projects such as:
• Customer experience: easy access to the municipality Neighbours, families and people employed
in local shops had the experience that if they were worried about a neighbour, family person or something else, then it was difficult to find the right people to contact within the municipality. As a response to this, Odense has opened a specific mail address to which anyone can inquire about their concerns or other issues. The sender receives a receipt, and feedback about actions to the concerned people in question.
• Networking between the housing areas There are regular network meetings between housing rental employees, the local police and municipal workers. This enables quicker and better responses to problems. • ‘Neighbour’s Fire Brigade’: when neighbours become a problem In housing areas, people who are ‘different’ from the mainstream population often create anxiety. Odense has developed a professional advice system, where staff from the Municipality will contact neighbours and inform them about how to deal with a mentally challenged person in
the housing complex. The objective of this kind of ‘housing fire brigade’ is partly to create security for all neighbours and partly to maintain a high level of tolerance for individuals acting, what is considered, outside of mainstream behaviour.
• Preventing putting people back
onto the streets Odense Municipality, the rental owners and the Bailiff’s Court have joined forces and put a focus on reducing the number of bailiffs. Bailiffs are costly to both the rental owners and the municipality. It has been documented by national studies that 25 per cent of people put onto the streets by bailiffs remain homeless. Putting people back onto the street is therefore increasingly seen as the least attractive solution, as it has higher social, personal and financial costs than almost any other solution. In Odense we constantly discuss preventive work in a network between housing tenants, shop owners, the policy and the municipality. This networking is constantly evolving and central for leveraging new and innovative solutions.
VIEW, issue 21, 2014
Spreading the word
ounded in 1994, INSP (International Network of Street Papers) supports and develops over 120 street paper projects in 40 countries in 24 languages, with a combined readership of 6 million per edition. Street papers are independent newspapers and magazines that operate on a social enterprise and self-help model to provide an innovative solution to urban homelessness and unemployment. Street paper vendors purchase
copies of their local street paper at half the cover price and become micro entrepreneurs, selling their product on the streets, to earn their own living and support themselves and their families. In addition to employment, many INSP street papers offer their vendors on-going social support and training opportunities. The group supports the development and sustainability of its members. They do this by providing a range of services and
projects, including advice, resources, training, innovation and editorial support through its online news service. They also help local community groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to start up street papers in their communities, to address the need for employment and support for homeless and unemployed people.
• For more information, go to www.street-papers.org
VIEW, issue 21, 2014
No-one wants to hear the new Greek army o story of a country that
Greek journalist Stella Theodorou writes about the growing numbers of homeless people in Greece in the midst of an austerity offensive
oup kitchens, social groceries, food from the rubbish outside the big supermarkets. Until 2010, when Greece entered the twilight zone of international lending, those were unknown words for the Greek society. Well known for their hospitality and the powerful family bonds Greeks woke up suddenly in a war zone. With the real unemployment rate more than 33 per cent and poverty deepening every single day, the number of homeless people in Athens, Salonika, Patras and the other major
towns of Greece is rising dramatically. More than 40.000 Greeks have ended up on the streets, most of them in Athens where the problem is more obvious and more acute. Sleeping on benches, even in the caves where 25 centuries ago Socrates used to live, many Greeks are giving everyday a struggle, counting one more day of their personal Golgotha. The social solidarity network is spreading. Small or large groups of people, companies, even individuals are helping the disadvan-
taged. Even coffee shops across the country offer free coffee for those who cannot afford to buy it. Donation is the word and the voluntary sector is working as an excellent coordinated network. Even in the supermarkets there are trolleys where you can leave groceries for those who cannot afford to buy them. Homelessness has soared by an estimated 30 per cent since 2009 as Greece spirals further into its worst post-war economic crisis. Greeks now speak of another section of society:
VIEW, issue 21, 2014
r the sad story about of homeless, the t struggles to survive
People queuing for food in Athens
the new homeless; people who do not have the traditional profile of homeless, they are no drug or alcohol addicts nor illegal migrants. They are the victims of what is called by the Greek government a “success story” and by its lenders fiscal adjustment. The latest data presented by the Municipality of Athens and the City of Athens Homeless Shelter (KYADA) is shocking. More than 20. 000 residents of the capital rely on social structures of the municipality for daily
survival. Of the people who participate in soup kitchens, 66 per cent are Greeks. In fact, 44 per cent have a high educational level, while 7.5 percent has a university title. But this is one side of the story of our lives. The other one does not count numbers, nor faces… It’s the hidden truth of people who have lost everything, jobs, home, their lives but they are nowhere in the statistics. Banks have taken their houses or they cannot afford to pay rent. They are still well
dressed. They do not go to the soup kitchens, they are fed by friends and family but they cannot afford to buy a pack of cigarettes. Dimitra Nousi, director of Athens food aid facility talks about this new kind of poverty which is unaccounted in the statistics. “This is the biggest problem,” she said. The social fabric is unraveling, thousands of middleclass lives are vanishing but no one wants to hear the sad story of this new ‘Greek army’ of homeless, the story of a country that struggles to survive.
VIEW, issue 21, 2014
Comment Sandra Moore, Director of Homelessness Services at the Welcome Organisation, has just recently visited USA and Australia to study the delivery and impact of Housing First's approach to addressing homelessness
overnmental policymakers and the public may have expected, or hoped, that they could end the crisis of homelessness. The first decade of the ‘noughties’ has not fulfilled that expectation and homelessness is causing increased pressures for successive governments of the ‘developed’ world. Programmes and services to help homeless people expanded dramatically in the 1990s, just as they did in the 1980s. At the same time, visible homelessness has not diminished. In many communities this persistence has forced governments to be creative in their solutions and to accept that ‘one fit’ does not suit all. Good practice models in addressing needs in one area are not necessarily appropriate to meeting
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the complexity of broader needs presenting. Answers to the issue are complex, as homelessness itself is complex. What is less complex is the conclusion that the policy and practice framework adopted is critical to ending homelessness. There are currently two primary approaches to addressing homelessness , the continuum of care (or linear) model or the increasingly favoured Housing First model, both of which have their antagonists.The continuum models that Housing First services are fast replacing also offer treatment and support. However, continuum models are principally founded on a conditionality’ logic whereby access to housing is contingent on accepting treatment and complying with abstinence and sobriety – removing choice and control in both the nature
of treatment and housing. Evaluation evidence from the United States suggests that rates of retention in housing are much higher in the Housing First model compared to continuum care models, thus substantially reducing the incidence of homelessness. However, there are conflicting reports on outcomes in terms of social inclusion and recovery from substance abuse which some claim have been less impressive, with the cost savings associated with the model (in terms of reduced hospitalisation acute treatment and involvement with criminal justice) noting meet the cost of providing supportive housing. Statistics provided by significant Housing First led organisations in the USA would dispute these assertions. Across the realms a number of government-led working
PPR and Simon Community The Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) organisation, founded in 2006 by renowned human rights activist and trade unionist Inez McCormack, is working in partnership with Simon Community Northern Ireland on a new project supporting people affected by homelessness. The work has commenced at a time when the problem of homelessness, already deeply entrenched and accepted, looks set to grow as a result of government imposed austerity. Enforced repossessions of property have increased almost fivefold in Northern Ireland during the past three years (from 200 in 2008 to just short of 1000 in 2011). The NI Executive’s ‘Welfare Reform Bill’, now being progressed through the Assembly, has the potential to push many more of the most vulnerable to present as
Legacy: Inez McCormack, who founded the PPR organisation homeless and seek accommodation in hostels. Simon Community NI is the largest provider of accommodation and services to homeless people in Northern Ireland and
VIEW, issue 21, 2014
WHAT DOES HOUSING FIRST POLICY MEAN? It’s a shift from using shelters as the predominant solution to homelessness towards ‘housing led’ approaches. This means increasing the capacity for both prevention and the provision of adequate floating support to people in their homes according to their needs groups have grappled with this complex issue developing a series of government strategies to address generic homelessness and rough sleeping. There is a real drive for change in the delivery of homelessness services in Northern Ireland as outlined in the NI Housing Executive’s Homelessness Strategy, 2013 which pertains to a shift from the current ‘housing led’ continuum of services to a ‘housing first’ focused model. It is unclear if a ‘Pathways model‘ is the preferred option with the adoption of a ‘one-fit for all’ approach. While the ‘shift’ towards providing direct access to permanent housing has the potential to enhance existing service responses, In Northern Ireland there has been little critical debate about the Housing First approach in a NI context. The aim of the study trip was
to stimulate critical discussion about the Housing First approach and the possibilities it offers with respect to chronic homelessness in Northern Ireland’s (ironically in the absence of an agreed definition of who are the chronic homeless and/ or definite client group). The pivotal question is whether the Housing First model is transferrable to Northern Ireland. In addressing this question the conclusion is that the principles and programmeme elements of a Housing First approach are transferrable, and to a certain degree some of the critical elements are already here. However, the notion of ‘programme drift’ reinforces the point that Housing First programmes in the USA, Australia and elsewhere draw on operational principles and are delivered under conditions that vary to the Pathways to Housing
programme. Despite the apparent simplicity of the term, what constitutes a Housing First approach has become increasingly unclear for several reasons, including the conflicting use of the label and inconsistent definitions of its key operating elements. The principle of Housing First has much to recommend it for Northern Ireland, but but care should be exercised in applying the model in NI, which faces a different policy environment to both the United States and Australia. For example, many of the principles underpinning Housing First (client empowerment, voluntary nature of accessing services) are already present in mainstream services programmes. We might not expect the dramatic improvements witnessed in the United States.
y launch housing initiative currently provides beds for over 700 new residents experiencing homelessness each year. The partnership between Simon Community NI and PPR is being carried out in accordance with a clear Terms of Reference and oversight body, which safeguards the independence of PPR and the emerging group, through this process. The experiences of homeless people have been voiced during the early stages of the project. “If you’re skint, that’s it, you’re left to rot,” says a resident who has had to rely on a Simon Community NI bed since becoming unemployed. “I could be here forever at this rate,” declares a long-term hostel resident in Belfast. More than 100 residents have contributed to the project so far, their experiences helping to identify the issues causing so many to become homeless and often remain so for years at a time.
A group of residents organised through the project, from various Simon Community NI hostels, recently met with the organisation’s senior management. They put across their initial views and ideas about improving service delivery and their prospects of moving towards permanent housing solutions. The management team has committed to working with the group to address issues and implement changes. Meanwhile the group will be using PPR’s human rights based approach to work with more people affected by homelessness, and working towards developing human rights indicators and benchmarks to progress their right to housing.
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