THE BLOG

It Takes More Than a Key to 'Home' People Who Are Homeless

10/10/2015 09:48 | Updated 09 October 2016

It's not surprising that many people think that once a homeless person is accommodated then it's job done. Well you would, wouldn't you? I certainly did until I started to work for a small, local homeless charity in Exeter - St Petrock's.

Now I have a better understanding of the multi faceted support that's required to help someone who has experienced homelessness, often for many years, maintain their tenancy and avoid becoming homeless again.

In order to appreciate the issues that can arise with the people we work with, I'd like to tell you about one of them - I'll call him 'J'.

J became homeless when the nursing home he'd worked in as a live-in carer for 18 years was sold. His former boss then died suddenly. So, in a short space of time he was bereaved, lost his job, his home and his whole way of life.

When J came to St Petrock's he was vulnerable, unwell and had lost belief that things could change. We were able to find J a quiet flat, which provided him with a stable base, but he was depressed and found it hard to make decisions.

St Petrock's not only provides on-going support to individuals we accommodate in the private rented sector; we also help overcome the 'hidden costs' associated with a new home and a new life. What I mean by 'hidden costs' is anything from helping buy basic furniture, applying for a council grant for white goods or maybe applying for charity funding for specialist counseling.

We helped J buy furniture, applied for a council grant for a fridge, hung curtains in his flat and added home comforts to help him feel settled. But after a few visits his worker noticed that J was losing weight as his clothes were starting to hang off him.

With charity funding for some new clothes and a microwave, we hoped J would be encouraged to reheat ready meals. However, J still required constant support (usually by telephone) to do simple things like get out of bed and eat. Between us we set up a plan for him to access specialist one-to-one support from St Petrock's mental health professional. They got on well and J's self confidence started to improve.

After years of being institutionalised, we realised that many of J's fears centred around money and utility bills. We were fortunate to find a mentor from another charity who could help J with budgeting and menu-planning. This in turn alleviated his fears and encouraged him to spend money on food.

Eighteen months on, J is virtually unrecognizable as the vulnerable, unhappy man who first appeared at St Petrock's. He has adjusted well to his new home, is looking after himself and is enjoying working at least 25 hours a week.

But simply handing J the key to his flat and expecting him to manage would have been setting up him to fail. He would have walked - his fears around his finances and depression would have left him unable to cope with his tenancy. The support we were able to give and will continue to give, as long as necessary, is what makes all the difference.

As it's World Homeless Day, maybe it's the right time to suggest that our statutory services reflect on their outcomes and perhaps consider adopting a more flexible and personalised approach to some of our most vulnerable people in society - we're certain it'll reap benefits for all concerned.

St Petrock's is shortlisted for the Centre for Social Justice Awards 2015, which recognise UK charities that display innovation and effectiveness in addressing the root causes of poverty, transforming lives and reversing social breakdown. The Huffington Post UK is the media partner for the awards