It’s time to take a holistic approach to housing, says Claire McCreanor.
With the latest statistics showing that 17 per cent of people who seek treatment for drugs and alcohol are experiencing housing issues, the correlation between insecure housing and substance use is sadly as strong as ever. The evidence consistently shows that people in treatment with access to safe and affordable accommodation, and appropriate support to help them remain in their home, stand a far greater chance of recovering from substance use.
As one of the largest drug and alcohol treatment providers in the UK, Humankind is primarily known for its work in substance use but we’ve also been working in the housing sector for more than 20 years. For decades, we’ve been using our experience of delivering commissioned services to develop a range of programmes and projects that help get people in a variety of situations into suitable housing, build a secure life and stay in their home.
Nowhere to go
In December 2021, Shelter estimated that 274,000 people were experiencing homelessness and of those approximately 2,700 were sleeping rough. Humankind believes that no one should be without a roof over their head, and we’re proud to be part of initiatives such as No Second Night Out in Bradford which aims to provide short-term emergency accommodation for people who are sleeping rough and connect them to longer-term options. Split across two sites near the city centre, No Second Night Out provides beds for up to 32 people who have nowhere else to go.
The programme, which Humankind delivers on behalf of Bradford City Council, started in 2015 at a site called Discovery House which has 20 beds that anyone who is experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless can access. Following the success at that location, Humankind was commissioned last year to open another ten-bed facility offering private rooms, including space for couples. At a time when suitable properties were hard to come by, we took the innovative approach of turning an old pub into a new centre called Endeavour House.
Unlike many shelter spaces which operate on a night-by-night basis, people are able to stay at both Endeavour and Discovery for up to a month. This allows staff time to build relationships with the guests and help connect them to services such as Change Grow Live’s substance use hub New Directions, work and skills training and longer-term housing options, therefore increasing the chance of people building sustainable lives once they move on. In addition to these year-round spaces, we also offer cold weather provision which includes emergency beds that are available in particularly inclement conditions. Since 2015, Bradford No Second Night Out has accommodated more than a thousand people, including MC.
MC had substance use and physical health issues and started sleeping rough after being discharged from hospital. MC was connected to the Bradford homeless outreach team by the hospital and they found him accommodation at Endeavour House. While staying at the service, Humankind staff worked closely with the New Directions team to help MC successfully access support to overcome his substance use issues and improve his general wellbeing and within two weeks they secured long term supported housing for him.
Last month, Humankind celebrated our tenth anniversary as a registered provider of social housing and in that time we’ve provided homes for almost 500 people. In addition to operating housing, over the last 20 years we’ve helped approximately 2,500 people to live independently through our housing related support services programme. To date, we’ve refurbished 85 dilapidated properties and turned them into specialist supported housing including hostels, shared houses, one-bed flats and family homes. Many of the residents who move into our properties face issues such as unemployment, substance use, domestic violence, mental health concerns, physical disabilities, anti-social behaviour, or are leaving care.
Private landlords are often reluctant to let properties to people experiencing challenges such as these and the situation is worsening, with recent government figures indicating there’s been a 17 per cent increase in those at risk of homelessness as a result of no-fault evictions from the private rented sector. Even social housing providers turn away people who have a history of rent arrears or anti-social behaviour, which is why Humankind focuses on supporting people who may have no other options available to them. As well as homes, we offer independent living services that help people set up and maintain a home, maximise their income and pay rent, develop their confidence and look after their health and wellbeing. On average, 90 per cent of the people we support go on to move into permanent housing, and every year hundreds manage to secure employment, participate in training and improve their mental and physical health while working with us.
‘I first came to Humankind in need of housing after a rough time in my life and straight from a detox. The team there not only made me feel welcome, they ironed out all my “teething” problems concerning my new house and they were prompt, polite and punctual… I have lived with Humankind for six years now and am grateful for the team who have supported me without judgement. I now have the chance to continue life with greater ease and not having to worry about my housing in any way.’
As a sector, we know that connected services and shared expertise are integral to providing effective recovery services. Humankind is proud to work with a wide range of partners and bring our experience and knowledge to a variety of initiatives, including the Greater Manchester Housing First (GMHF) pilot. We are one of several organisations involved in the project, which is part of a nationwide initiative that takes an evidence-based approach of using housing as springboard to enable individuals with multiple and complex needs to begin recovery and move away from homelessness.
The pilot acknowledges that while many factors affect a person’s ability to remain stably housed, they are all more effectively addressed when a person is housed. Alongside organisations with expertise in mental and physical health, criminal justice, housing and other areas, we support people who are facing multiple disadvantages to ensure they have the best possible chance of building stable lives. Since the pilot launched in January 2021, the multi-agency partnership has helped house more than 320 people and the programme was recently named as the best initiative for tackling homelessness at the Northern Housing Awards.
NT came to Housing First with a difficult and traumatic history. After joining the army at a young age and being involved in active combat, NT was diagnosed with PTSD and other mental health issues and his life entered a cycle of instability including substance use, homelessness, anti-social behaviour and offending. When he was not in custody, NT lived a chaotic life and struggled to work with support services or maintain his accommodation. After a year of work by the multi-agency team, Housing First managed to secure housing for NT and helped him move in and furnish his property. The collective determination and commitment by his support team has helped NT realise that he has choices and control over his future.
Diverse approaches such as these have the ability to make a significant difference to the lives of thousands, including many people who use substances – but the work of third sector organisations such as ours can only be part of the solution. For everyone to have access to safe and stable housing, there needs to be sustained investment and policies that focus on increasing social and supported housing. As part of the new drug strategy, the government has committed to invest £53m over the next three years to fund a range of housing support options which will improve the recovery outcomes for people in treatment and reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness. It’s vital that this funding is invested in the communities that need it most and that an integrated approach is taken to addressing housing and substance use in tandem.
In 2019, the government committed to building 300,000 new homes each year but only a small proportion of these will be affordable and, while the pace of construction has increased, this target is yet to be met. To truly make a difference to the lives of many of the people Humankind supports, the government must ensure that the homes which are being constructed are affordable for people on average and lower incomes. We therefore support Shelter in their call for the construction of more social housing and we urge the government to continue investing in initiatives such as Housing First which are proving successful nationwide and to deliver on their commitment to end no-fault evictions. It is only through the delivery of policies such as this – and continued investment in programmes such as those our sector delivers – that people who use substances will be able to receive the cohesive services that make a real difference.