Safe as houses

safe housingThe need for quality supported housing is now greater than ever, says Gill Arukpe. Read it in DDN Magazine

I have worked in supported housing for a long time, over forty years to be precise. I was a frontline worker in Women’s Aid, housing women and children fleeing from violent and controlling relationships – sometimes three or four families sharing a three-bed house in a residential street. Just pause and think how desperate all those women and their children were, and still are today, to uproot courageously and move into overcrowded shared accommodation, often staying for over a year before their housing situation is resolved.

In the ’90s, I managed one of the largest hostels in London, Arlington House. It accommodated 400 men who had been homeless and had mental health and substance misuse issues. I share this with you to show how the needs of people in the UK have not changed over decades. Supported housing was and still is needed for the most vulnerable of our society, and we need to continue providing it – and doing so even better.

Changing times

Over the past ten to 20 years, the supported housing field has changed hugely. Most supported housing schemes for adults with social care and health issues run in much smaller buildings now, which is positive. In the Social Interest Group (SIG) we provide housing and accommodation services for adults who have had a long-term enduring mental illness and often have comorbidity with addiction or personality disorder. We also work to support people who have been in the criminal justice system and have mental health issues, personality disorders and substance or alcohol misuse.

It is essential to our residents and us that we provide trauma-informed accommodation. It is vital that our residents feel valued, and that the look of the housing and the upkeep of that accommodation is of high specification – this is essential in aiding residents’ recovery and rehabilitation or resettlement. In my experience, if you offer poor quality accommodation, no matter how good the support is residents will find it difficult to trust you and engage. Their mood is affected, and the level of aggression in the house can rise quickly.

Essential space

Providing spacious rooms with ensuite facilities so residents do not have to share is essential. Many of our residents have had to share facilities for years. They have often experienced trauma and had poor experiences using support in the past. The need to value them as people by the quality of the accommodation is essential. The SIG has a property strategy which we hope to realise over the next three years – to replace all our accommodation that does not provide ensuite as a minimum.

Very recently National Housing Group approached me and told me about their vision to provide supported housing that was fit for purpose. Refreshingly, they asked for our input while they got the building ready before completion. I have visited a property they are working on now and they have thought carefully about residents’ privacy, mental wellness, and the light in communal areas, while also recognising the need to keep everyone safe and involved. They are not insisting that all rooms are for rental income – they have listened to our need to have space for us to provide education and learning on-site. They have even thought about the environmental impact and the cost of running a supported house.

New Partnerships

Gill Arukpe is CEO of the Social Interest Group.
Gill Arukpe is CEO of the Social Interest Group.

I am looking forward to entering a partnership with the National Housing Group soon – their staff are not only property experts but have employed people who have previously worked in the sector and understand our needs as providers and residents as recipients of support. Look out for our announcement of the opening of our first partnership house.

A version of this article also appeared in Inside Housing magazine.


Firm foundations

National Housing Group share the story of one of their residents

James was helped by our Pathways to Independence service in Kent. He entered our low/medium support Newlyn Court project in July 2018 – he had been referred while homeless and has spent time in custody and on community orders. His most recent offence was for shoplifting in July 2019 – he was given a 12-month suspended sentence.

James has struggled with an addiction to heroin for 14 years. He moved away from his family home at 15 and has been without a settled home since then. He had surrounded himself with associates who held pro-criminal attitudes and who also struggled with addiction. Rough sleeping exacerbated this lifestyle, and he became reliant on services like the local day centre for support, food and social interaction.

James had additional support needs – he had no budgeting skills as all his adult life was spent homeless, with poor money management leading to debts and an acknowledged struggle to take responsibility for himself and his actions.

James’ health was compromised. After years of drug use, he has contracted hep C and had never prioritised treatment for this because of homelessness and recovery from addition. James has struggled with his mental health and emotional wellbeing during his time with us, and he was diagnosed and medicated for anxiety and depression. During his time, he has experienced suicidal thoughts and overdose attempts. James accepted the support from staff and engaged well with primary healthcare services during times of crisis.

For now, James is doing very well. He has drawn strength from the peer support he finds in Cocaine Anonymous meetings, having a sponsor, studying the ‘big book’ and talking with others who share his experiences and can offer him support. He has recently completed 90 meetings in 90 days, has spoken publicly and applied to volunteer back at the day centre which once was a trigger point for him. James is on a reduction programme and plans to spend a short time in detox to wean himself off completely.

James is now self-sufficient in most areas of his life. He manages his accommodation well and is now in one of our self-contained units in Tumim House, as a stepping stone to complete independence. He can now budget effectively and has no debt. James has better relationships with family which he cherishes, and he is looking forward to a family wedding this year. He has worked hard and even though he sometimes still has ‘drug thoughts’ he has learnt from experience not to let his guard down and to renew his commitment to support networks and communicate openly with his support coach, probation and drug workers.

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