No place like home
Phoenix Future’s new report Building recovery friendly communities makes the case for specialist recovery housing as a pathway to long-term recovery. Karen Biggs tells DDN why this is an opportunity not to be missed
From its unique position as both a drug and alcohol treatment charity and a housing association, Phoenix Futures has seen how pressures on the housing rental market are affecting people with drug and alcohol problems.
‘Changes in the housing world are increasing potential for people with substance misuse issues to have reduced housing options, either in treatment or when they exit treatment,’ says Phoenix Futures’ chief executive Karen Biggs.
At the same time, she points out, there are opportunities to bring together the housing and health agendas – ‘and if substance misuse isn’t in there when those conversations are happening, if we miss this opportunity, our service users will be seriously impacted… we will face the consequences further down the line.’
The charity’s new report (DDN, November 2015, page 4) sets out a housing pathway, starting with residential rehabilitation and moving through bridge housing – which prepares people to leave formal treatment – then into supported housing where they develop life skills, and on to recovery houses, and finally independent living.
‘This is what we think a housing pathway could look like in a local area,’ says Biggs. ‘It doesn’t have to be provided by one provider – use it as a starter to look at what you have in your area and how it supports someone as they’re moving through their recovery journey. Think about whether you are giving yourself the best opportunity to create that recovery friendly community.’
Phoenix are working effectively with partners in different areas, with the aim of making the housing recovery journey easier and helping people with tough choices.
‘Leaving treatment, housing options often restrict people from moving at their own pace and still getting the support they need,’ says Biggs. Working with other housing associations in some areas is proving effective in providing housing – independent living is central to the strategy they are now actively developing, and this involves finding landlords who understand about the recovery journey.
An understanding landlord can make a real difference to someone’s chances, she adds, as ‘if there’s a lapse they can be open and honest about it, rather than having to hide it from one of the most important stakeholders in their recovery. If there’s something that can be done to support them in independent living, that could be a conversation they could have with their landlord.’
Biggs hopes the document will open up a conversation between treatment providers, commissioners and housing providers. Many commissioners are already keen, she says, while community services have also welcomed the idea. Many housing associations also understand the issues, but there is a challenge in making sure these ‘don’t get lost’ with larger housing associations. Seeing initiatives come together can culminate in projects like Grace House, Phoenix’s new service in London for women with complex needs – the result of many conversations around how hard it is to achieve good quality, safe, stable housing for this group (and their families) and how hard it is for them to sustain treatment gains.
Keeping the service user at the centre of the model gave it clear direction from the start. ‘We came at it from a service user’s perspective,’ says Biggs. ‘We’d get them to think “what can I achieve before I leave?” and it’s about keeping that ambition. Peer support also played an important role: ‘It’s scary moving on to the next stage, so it’s helpful to see other people who’ve done it,’ she says.
Establishing a timescale for the recovery housing pathway involves a balancing act between being specific for the commissioner and being flexible enough not to impose too many constraints on the service user, particularly as ‘things get harder’ for them in the current climate.
‘Many of our service users have settled for “not good enough” when it comes to housing,’ she adds. ‘What we want to make easier is access to good, safe, secure housing and provide a full pathway. If we put the same effort into housing as everything else, it would be the best option for maintaining treatment gains.’
Building recovery friendly communities at www.phoenixfutures.org.uk