Examining the work of our Prevention Support Workers
The issue of homelessness in the UK is often incorrectly assumed to be an issue unique to large towns and cities, but a recent headcount showed a significant increase in the numbers of rough sleepers in Shrewsbury. The total number of homeless across Shropshire is likely to be far higher, with temporary accommodation available yet costly. So, what are the challenges and what support is being offered in the long term to help those who find themselves relying on temporary accommodation?
Since April 2018 Prevention Support Worker teams from South Shropshire Housing Association (SSHA), part of Connexus, have been working alongside Shropshire Council’s Housing Options Team to provide housing support to homeless people placed in temporary accommodation. The support role is a cog in a wider strategic wheel of local authority response and duty to provide meaningful help, in accordance with the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.
SSHA Prevention Support Workers Sue Wilson and Dave Barsley spend a day each week providing support at a motel in Church Stretton. The motel allocates 18 rooms for the council to place people and is consistently full, with Dave and Sue seeing 101 clients in the 12 month period since April 2018. The footfall is high for a variety of reasons. Many present with multiple complex issues such as acute mental health concerns, drug and alcohol addiction, recent offending history, a lack of permanence in housing leading to erratic lifestyles.
Easing the continuous demand for temporary accommodation from vulnerable rough sleepers by helping them transition into settled accommodation is a primary objective for our Prevention Support Workers. A number of clients do not stay long and so providing support can be difficult. Reasons are varied but will include restlessness, displacement from their normal surroundings and support network, breach of house rules leading to eviction, or re-offending leading to prison recall.
Despite these challenges, progress is being made and there have been 21 cases moving on to settled accommodation. The support work can be demanding and intense at times but demonstrates what could be achieved with more time and resources. It is sometimes difficult for us to see the broader picture while standing so close to it, but the Housing Options Team have acknowledged the impact and difference all the support officers are making in their temporary accommodation work across Shropshire (another motel is used near Whitchurch and various Travelodges across the county also provide temporary accommodation).
Looking to the future, Dave Barsley is cautiously optimistic:
“It's early days to see just how effective partnership working will be in addressing the reduction of homelessness across the county. There are still gaps that need to be filled in service provision in order to break these repetitive cycles that some individuals find themselves trapped in.”
Sue Wilson agrees:
“Solving this issue is not just about the housing, sadly. There is a need for early interventions from mental health services, substance misuse support, and help for those released from prison to resettle into their communities.”
The homelessness crisis rightfully attracts increasingly frequent local and national news headlines, and the individual stories are often tragic and incredibly emotive. This is not a problem that will be solved overnight, but the hard work of our Prevention Support Workers is helping some find a way to break the negative cycle of homelessness and temporary accommodation.