17 September 2013
In it for the long term – Homelessness, 40 years and counting
My first brush with homelessness came at the age of 11 when the private rented home where I lived with my parents was to be demolished as part of the Government’s slum clearance programme.
My parents both worked full time in the local mills, but clearly there was not enough money to buy our own home. Thankfully we were re-housed by the Council in a two bedroom semi, complete with a bathroom and indoor toilet, and to my delight no cobwebs. It was to be my home for the next 10 years until I completed my university studies, and thereafter the home of my parents for another 17 years. It wasn’t perfect – there were only two gas fires in the entire house and it was freezing cold upstairs – but it was home.
An interest in housing followed. I started my working life in 1983 at a small voluntary sector organisation in Liverpool that provided emergency night shelter for single homeless men. Little did I know then that some 30 years later poverty and homelessness in the North would still be such a huge problem.
Three decades on, as Director of Social Investment at Connect Housing, I am still involved in providing affordable housing and services for people at the sharp end of homelessness.
In the Yorkshire & Humber region as a whole 1 in every 8 households is on a social housing waiting list, and only a third of the homes Yorkshire & Humber needs each year are being built. Governments, policies and funding regimes, support models and support providers have come and gone over the past 30 years, but homelessness is still with us, and the problem is more urgent than ever.
‘Bold action is imperative to help families who are struggling to pay their rent and are more vulnerable to eviction and homelessness as a result of welfare and advice cuts,’ says Campbell Robb, Chief Executive of Shelter.
I am proud to work for an organisation that has not waivered in its efforts to be part of the solution, and is committed to investing in the health and well being of people and communities in the broadest sense. Despite the myriad changes in the support sector over the last few years we have held true to our values, retained a talented team of skilled support workers and managers, and retained most of our commissioned services. We have had to be creative, flexible, change the way we do things and understand where we sit in the market. We stood up, took a long hard look at ourselves and sharpened up our act, which was no bad thing. We haven’t joined the race to the bottom on salaries, introduced zero hour contracts or replaced skilled support workers with volunteers. We won’t be doing any of that and we definitely won’t be giving up.
Homeless Link’s ‘Survey of Needs and Provision 2012’ shows there are 8 fewer homelessness projects and 291 fewer bed spaces in Yorkshire and Humber than in 2011. Last year 192 young people needed support from Connect’s single homeless services in Kirklees, but we were only able to help around a third of those.
We are therefore absolutely thrilled that we have recently won a tender to deliver a supported accommodation service for young people and care leavers (age 16-22) who are homeless or inappropriately housed in Kirklees, and will be able to help more young people in Kirklees to live independently and find housing solutions that are appropriate for them.
There is still an awful lot to do, however. Connect has been working to provide decent housing and the support that people need across West Yorkshire for almost 40 years. We’re in it for the long term and we will continue to work with partners old and new to create and deliver solutions.
Christine Fox, Director of Social Investment
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