Giving a few pounds to the people you see on the streets of our towns and cities can seem like one way to show you care and to help them, at least for that day. However, a recent initiative started by the North Devon and Torridge Community Safety Partnership – a multi-agency group that includes Local Authorities, the Police, Fire and Rescue services and the Dorset, Devon and Cornwall Community Rehabilitation Company – is asking people to help create real change in the lives of homeless people rather than giving their spare change to people they see on our streets.
As with other initiatives instigated by this group, Freedom is working with and supporting the partnership as it aims to create real change in the lives of vulnerable and rough-sleeping individuals through this approach.
Making A Real Difference
The Spare Change or Real Change initiative seeks to educate the public on how we can really make a change to the homeless people we see. Often the money given to rough sleepers and beggars can work counter to the giver’s intentions. In some cases, the spare change collected can be used to fund some of the underlying issues that cause a person’s homelessness and even make it worse.
The number of people who are homeless or rough-sleeping in the UK rose by around 4% last year showing a continued rise since 2010. In North Devon, there are a number of different agencies working hard to address the issues of homelessness. One of the ways in which this is being done is by building relationships with rough sleepers, helping them to address any underlying issues which may be stopping them from securing or keeping a roof over their heads with individualised support and sharing information with local charities, police and other agencies so they can gain an understanding of each individual’s background and needs.
Initiatives such as our Day Centre and supported housing, the Housing Hub and the Safe Sleep project (run with North Devon Council) all provide such avenues for homeless people to address their situation and for meaningful change to be instigated. By working closely with other agencies such as North Devon Council, Devon and Cornwall Police and other charities in the area, a better understanding of an individual’s circumstances can be gained; with this understanding and by working in partnership, the best interventions for an individual can be prepared. This approach takes both time and money but has been found to give each person the best chance of turning their lives around, moving into permanent accommodation and building positive future prospects.
Showing You Care
Spare Change or Real Change doesn’t seek to stop people from showing individuals on the streets that they care, as Superintendent Toby Davies expressed, “This is not about stopping anyone from chatting to someone on the street who you feel would welcome that conversation, or getting someone a cup of tea; but if you want to meaningfully assist a rough sleeper, help us to offer them real change, not your spare change.”
In order to help create real change for the homeless population in North Devon, people are being asked to support charities with regular donations or by volunteering their time. Just a few pounds each month can make a difference to the services that organisations such as ours are able to offer the vulnerable people within our communities and enable us to plan for the future with interventions that not only answer the current issue of homelessness but also help to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Breaking the cycle
Our Housing Manager, Phil Noall, says, “Breaking the cycle of street homelessness is best achieved through a multi-agency approach and this is something we are committed to. We fully support the Spare Change or Real Change initiative as we believe it has the potential to reduce street begging and much of the anti-social behaviour that accompanies this activity. It’s easy to assume that there is a lack of support services to assist rough sleepers when we see people begging on the high street but this simply isn’t the case. And sadly, in our experience, giving people money often prolongs their street homelessness.”
In North Devon it is estimated that on any given night there are between 10 – 15 people sleeping rough in our communities. Around 70 – 80% of these people are local and find themselves homeless for a range of reasons such as a relationship breakdown, addiction or loss of a job. By working together with local organisations, we are helping these and others not only into appropriate accommodation but onto paths towards better lives for them and the wider community.
The Housing Hub
A fortnightly ‘Housing Hub’, chaired by North Devon Council and run at the Freedom Centre allows a group of local organisations – Julian House, Sanctuary Supported Living, Alabare Christian Care and Support, local police, probation, Rise and Freedom – to work together. Informed by each organisation’s work in the community and regular outreach rounds of rough sleeper spots, the hub are able to assess and prioritise rough sleepers, using an assessment matrix developed by hub agencies with government funding in 2014, for placement in a type of accommodation that best supports their needs.
Ian Gibson of Julian House and part of the rough sleeper outreach team explains the aim of the regular rounds. ‘Our early morning outreach has two main purposes: one is to ensure people we find rough sleeping are OK and not in need of pressing or emergency assistance – the harsh reality is that life expectancy for long-term rough sleepers and homeless individuals in the UK is just 47 years old. The second purpose is to give a clear message about the options that are available locally (or further afield if appropriate). Our approach is friendly but firm, and above all respectful.’
Appropriate housing and needs run on a scale from high, complex needs, catered for by Sanctuary Supported living in Barnstaple, through to ‘move on accommodation’ at the other end and provided by our Freedom Housing with 24 beds over 6 properties where tenants with less complex issues are supported to find work, manage their finances, cook for themselves and generally prepare for independence and reintegrate with the community.
A multi-agency holistic approach to helping homeless people
As Natasha Rowland, Service Lead for Housing Equality at North Devon Council says ‘The Housing Hub allows a multi-agency, holistic response to homelessness and the wider associated issues which affect our clients, with the added benefit of effective information sharing which gives a much better awareness and knowledge of the needs of our clients, with the aim of [them] no longer being ‘pushed from pillar to post. [This] gives clients more appropriate support and each client has a considered and achievable individual support plan in place.’
‘Often the quickest or ‘easiest’ answer isn’t necessarily sustainable in the longer term and people can quickly find themselves homeless or back on the streets again.’ adds Ian Gibson. ‘By pooling our knowledge, resources and ideas we stand a much better chance of finding a way to end the cycle of homelessness that many people become trapped in. Obviously, this is not only fantastic for the individual but also massively beneficial to the wider community.’
Our Engage Community Hub
In conjunction with the Housing Hub, our Engage Community Hub provides a one-stop-shop of support for not only those in supported housing and ex-offenders but also the wider community. By working in tandem, and having both hubs run from the Freedom Centre, people are able to access a range of services and support networks from the one spot providing our local community with a strong integrated ‘safety net’ that often catches people before they slip into homelessness.