“They’ve got a whole life ahead of them” – the new service to give rough sleepers a council property in Sheffield
“These are humans, these are individuals. They’ve got a whole life ahead of them and it’s about their life plan, their goals and aspirations, it’s not just about getting a roof over someone’s head for a crisis.”
Suzanne Allen, a Sheffield Council officer, is talking about recurrently homeless people with high and complex needs.
The council has launched a new service, Housing First, to place long term rough sleepers in council properties. Initially, 30 homes have been set aside but it’s hoped this will be expanded to 50.
Officers say people engage more when the support is flexible and bespoke so there will be wraparound care from agencies to help with drug and alcohol problems plus a dedicated mental health nurse will visit people in their own homes.
During the first lockdown, the Government instructed local authorities to house all rough sleepers with immediate effect and 197 people in Sheffield were placed in emergency accommodation, including hotels.
Many rough sleepers said it gave them a taste of a normal life with regular meals, their own space and even a TV.
Now Sheffield Council wants to build on that success and give people a chance of making a home their own, rather swooping in once a crisis has happened.
Ms Allen told a scrutiny meeting: “We don’t want to set anyone up to fail or overly concentrate people in a specific area.
“We’re finding the right home as far as we can for those individuals. We’ve done a joint assessment of need with all of the partner agencies, which cover housing, health, community safety, mental health, and recovery issues around drug and alcohol.
“We check if they had a poor experience in a particular area before and whether it’s not going to be a good start for them and we have a rehousing panel that looks at those vulnerable issues.
“Through our property pool, we see what homes might be suitable and work out what the right one is for that individual.
“We ask people what they want, what they think might work for them, and the model has taken into account what people who are rough sleeping said.
“We don’t force anyone into anything, we say what do you think about this and what package of support do you need to make that work.
“We want this to work so they get one to one intensive support from a key worker, as well as all the agencies coming in, and we are continuing the support they’ve had in the hotels into that new home. The mental health services, or whatever package they’ve got, goes with them.
“We are constantly reviewing how that person’s getting on. We don’t just put them there and forget until there’s a problem because that’s something that can sometimes happen, someone is set up with really good intentions and then you’re on with the next people.”
The council is well aware of any potential impact on communities and will work closely with them to explain what the service is and how it helps.
“The reality is that people who’ve got drug and alcohol use issues are living out in neighbourhoods, they don’t all live in the town centre. It would be wrong to give the impression that people aren’t living there anyway, they are.
“They go periodically through tenancies, they go through supported housing, they might go back on the streets – that whole cycle of despair.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure that they’re living in a very supported way rather than being left for the crisis to happen and then we scoop them up again.
“Very often, these people are both perpetrators and victims of criminal behaviour as well and that’s the reality of their lives. That’s why that whole wraparound approach has got to be head on and acknowledge those things.
“We’ve got to be very clear that these are adults who’ve got rights and responsibilities, and we’re going to work with them around those, so it isn’t just saying it’s a free for all, and we’re going to put them in neighbourhoods and let it happen.
“It’s about saying, if you’re ready now to take those steps, this is what you need to be doing and this is how we will help.
“There are issues about antisocial behaviour, criminal activity where people very often get cuckooed when they are vulnerable.
“That’s the reality so let’s deal with it head on in a more creative way that hopefully will be sustainable for them, because that does impact their neighbours, it impacts what the estate looks like and what it feels like to live there. We’re not shying away from it, that’s why the partnership is so important.”
Housing associations have also been asked to make properties available so not everyone is concentrated in council homes.
The council diverted government funding into the new service and admits future funding is an issue but officers pitched the service to the government and received positive feedback.
“We’re quite confident that it stacks up in terms of the benefits to people and financial benefits. We will make it happen.
“People may say there’s this cost to it and it is very intensive support, but there’s wider costs if we don’t have the right housing options available.
“Our partners understand that holistic work, the work we’ve done with police for example, has been transformative. We’ll be investing lots of resources anyway so let’s make the best use of them.”