This post was first published by The Croydon Citizen on 09/02/2018.
CRZero 2020: how can we end homelessness in Croydon?
Getting to know and understand homeless people means that we can offer them the help that they really need.
Like most residents of the borough, I’m aware of the increase in street homelessness over the last couple of years. What most of us don’t realise is that the majority of those living on the streets are supported back into housing relatively quickly. However, there is a more persistent problem: that of chronic homelessness.
Although definitions vary, the chronic homeless are those who either have been homeless for a long period of time, or who tend to become homeless again after having been housed. Organisations involved in helping the homeless have, for a long time, been trying to work out how to tackle this problem. Traditional approaches have focused on overcoming such issues as mental illness and addictions before the provision of housing. It’s not hard to see that trying to tackle serious problems whilst still living on the streets is a not inconsiderable challenge. With this in mind – and with the failure of the so-called ‘staircase’ approach to housing homeless people – Dr Sam Tsemberis, at Pathways Housing First in New York, conceived the ‘Housing First’ approach in the early ’90s. The following is from the Housing First Europe Hub:
“Housing First offered rapid access to a settled home in the community, combined with mobile support services that visited people in their own homes. There was no requirement to stop drinking or using drugs and no requirement to accept treatment in return for housing. Housing was not removed from someone if their drug or alcohol use did not stop, or if they refused to comply with treatment. If a person’s behaviour or support needs resulted in a loss of housing, Housing First would help them find another place to live and then continue to support them for as long as was needed.”
I went forward to see what I could do to help Evolve Housing + Support
Just under a year ago I was attending the monthly Croydon Constructing Excellence Club breakfast. Generally there is a 10-minute presentation from a club member, however this time we received a talk from Evolve Housing + Support, a leading homelessness charity and provider of supported housing active across south London. By coincidence I had recently read about the Housing First approach and wondered whether it could be applied in Croydon, so when at the end of her talk fundraising manager Laura McLellan asked for help, I went forward to see what I could do.
A few weeks later I found myself in a meeting of the solutions group held in Crisis Skylight in Surrey Street. One big focus is on Connections Week, where the charity engaged 100 local community volunteers to get to know every rough sleeper in Croydon by name, understand their needs and find out what they required for a sustainable route off the streets. This data is analysed and was presented to key influencers and other interested parties at an event held in central Croydon on Friday 19th January. Even though I’d been part of the solutions group, and therefore was aware of the information presented, I found the event incredibly inspirational, leading me to commit in front of the entire audience to writing this article. One of the most moving segments of the event was the testimony given by one of the people the programme had helped conquer mental and physical health problems, as well as drug and alcohol addictions. The Executive Summary of the findings are here – and this is definitely worth reading.
You can find further information on the Evolve Housing + Support website, as well as a link to donate or volunteer. I hope that some of you are equally inspired, and at the very least gain greater understanding of the stories behind the individuals living on our local streets.