National Expert Citizens Group Update
Author: Lee Dale, Community Development Coordinator, VOICES (NECG Member)
Throughout the Fulfilling Lives programme VOICES and Expert Citizens have been working closely with the National Expert Citizen Group (NECG) hosted by Revolving Doors. During the past 16 months due to the pandemic, we have continued to do this, albeit remotely. All the Fulfilling Lives lived experience teams have shown true commitment throughout this process, and their input is helping to shape future services for those experiencing multiple disadvantages.
The aim of the NECG is to ensure lived experience shapes system change and creates future services that are; co-produced, accessible, and designed for people who have experienced multiple disadvantages.
- Helping create services designed for people with co-occurring substance/alcohol use and mental health (‘dual diagnosis’). This will include providing support for people who want support but are not yet abstinent.
- Improving support for people leaving prison and people with repeat contact with the criminal justice system.
- Developing approaches to prevent drug related deaths and adapt to changes in drug use (e.g., rise in crack cocaine, prescription drugs and new psychoactive substances).
- Developing appropriate accommodation options for people who are experiencing multiple disadvantages.
- Designing services that are appropriate for women that have experienced multiple disadvantages.
Regional discussions were held in May where a series of questions were asked by CFE research to wider lived experience groups. CFE research are currently evaluating the Fulfilling Lives Programme.
Written evidence was then submitted and reported back to one of the 3 regional groups.
This June findings were presented to us from our latest theme of ‘transitions from supported accommodation’ at the national group meeting. With the focus on what makes the fulfilling lives areas unique in terms of their support.
Firstly, people were asked “What are the ingredients of support that fulfilling lives provides that helps people move from homelessness to settled accommodation?”
Practical help and small caseloads
Fulfilling Lives funding has enabled smaller caseloads which has made it possible for staff to provide the practical, emotional, and person-centred support people require when they move. Small caseloads enable trust and relationships to form and a sense of unconditional support. Personal budgets have also played a central role.
‘Accommodation will often be unsatisfactory, but personalisation funds enable it to feel like a home, get a TV, why not’ Anonymous NECG member
Peer support and navigators
Peer Supporters and Navigators can help advocate, and co-ordinate, when dealing with multiple services and the mountain of bureaucracy involved in the resettlement process.
‘It would be great to have peer support- ex homeless people that can support you when you first get into accommodation and know about the difficult things you are facing.’ Anonymous NECG member
Having a wider support network
People spoke about the benefits of being connected to multiple support organisations; this led to opportunities, an understanding of how the system works and opened doors.
‘At crucial points I was able to see a wider scope of like-minded organisations’ Anonymous NECG member
We heard positive feedback about Housing First schemes in Bristol and Birmingham. If properly funded, with small caseloads and excellent wrap around support, Housing First works.
It was felt that more work is needed to develop and improve this approach.
Secondly the group were asked “what are the barriers that make it difficult for some people to move into and remain in settled accommodation? Why do some people end up back homeless again?”
Setting people up to fail
The system for applying for housing, benefits and managing a tenancy is not designed for people experiencing multiple disadvantages. It’s the system that fails people, not the people that are failing.
The system often assumes ‘any roof will do’ and sets people up to fail. People need to be listened to and their circumstances properly considered. Environment is crucial.
‘When you presented (at the housing office) they wanted additional information which was very difficult. Letter from mental health team, support worker, assuming that I had one. I didn’t even know they existed’ Anonymous NECG member
A lack of support
Outside of Fulfilling lives, there is a lack of services providing support for the skills required to sustain a tenancy. Often, so called ‘supported accommodation’ involves very little support.
“Support sometimes ends quite prematurely especially moving into independent accommodation. Should be a plan put in place until the person is ready. Often, we go from lots of support to no support. I went from 24/7 support in a hostel to no one.” Anonymous NECG member
Internal belief and negative environments
In addition to practical support, people need support around personal development, building confidence and self-esteem. Support must be holistic.
‘A lot of the barriers are internal; people don’t have a lot of confidence in themselves’ Anonymous NECG member
‘When your life has been shaped by neglect, even when you get a home, you can neglect yourself and neglect your responsibilities and lose it all.’ Anonymous NECG member
People need more than a flat
Excellent wrap around and long-term support are needed to ensure the root causes are addressed. This is essential to enable long term recovery.
‘People think that a flat is the answer, but are you dealing with the root causes as to why that person became homeless in the first place? This need’s dealing with and those reasons will be unique and personal to that individual.’ Anonymous NECG member
Isolation and loneliness
People need support to develop positive social networks, feel part of a community and have something positive to do.
‘Isolation is a killer. If you are moved somewhere new, social anxiety can make it hard to meet new people. You go back to what you know’. Anonymous NECG member
The private rented sector
Private Sector rented accommodation can be problematic for people experiencing multiple disadvantages, poor quality housing, high rents, insecure tenancies, and a lack of support. People can feel they are being abandoned.
‘If you get a place you are only ever on 3 months contracts so constantly in fear of being moved on, so its temporary and unsettling.’ Anonymous NECG member
Cuckooing and exploitation
Cuckooing, where drug dealers and gangs take over the home of someone who is vulnerable, is a massive problem. People who have experienced multiple disadvantages appear to be frequently targeted.
‘Trauma in their life, vulnerable and maybe getting the flat makes them a target. Drug dealers, others take over their homes because they are vulnerable.’ Anonymous NECG member
Some of the people most in need of support are digitally excluded. We must not assume the online, digital world works for everyone.
‘Without access to a smart phone you can’t do half the things you need to do, everything’s online, and if you do have access to the right technology, after being on the street for a while you might not feel confident in how to use it.‘ Anonymous NECG member
Our last question to consider was “How is the experience of homelessness different for women? What gender specific support do they need with us?”
Patterns of women’s homelessness
It has been said that data suggests women are much less likely than men to sleep rough, a statement the NECG disagrees with. Patterns of women’s homelessness are different and more hidden. The NECG believe that the official statistics do not reflect the actual number of women rough sleeping.
It was suggested we need to re-define what we mean by ‘rough sleeping’. It’s not always visible and ‘being under a roof’ does not mean you are safe.
It’s harder to access services
There was a consensus that women are judged and stigmatised by the services that should be supporting them. This makes it more difficult for women to access, approach, and trust services.
‘Judgement, fear and trauma – that’s why it’s not reported’ Anonymous NECG member
‘Cultural needs may prevent Women from using services such as Muslim Women or Afro Caribbean women who don’t see their own people working in services’. Anonymous NECG member
There was a consensus that mixed hostels aren’t appropriate or safe for women.
‘I was walking into a hostel where someone has a history of sexual violence’ Anonymous NECG member
Mothers and families
Services and accommodation options need to be designed for women with children.
“As a woman its often you that has the responsibility for the children, that makes homelessness even worse, when you know that you are dragging your kids through your problems.” Anonymous NECG member
Domestic violence causes homelessness
The system is failing women made homeless through domestic violence. Services, including the Police, miss opportunities to make positive interventions. Not wanting to be found by perpetrators is another reason women hide and avoid mainstream homeless services.
‘If you get pulled by a police officer, it’s go home sort it out, no hold on, I’ll get battered again for running away, it’s a perpetual cycle’ Anonymous NECG member
A roof does not mean you are safe
Women may ‘have a roof over their head’ but this does not mean safety. Women trapped in abusive and exploitative ‘relationships’ can be invisible to services.
“The prostitution side of it- more likely to be a woman than a man. Some feel it’s an expectation- everyone knows what prostitution is, don’t know if they feel it is the only way. Prostitution for accommodation, not money.” Anonymous NECG member
Further possible solutions discussed were:
Specifically for women:
- Female navigators with lived experience are great andeasier to speak to than a keyworker or social worker.
- Creating women only trauma informed services and accommodation options (including options for women with children)
- The system needs to change its definition of ‘rough sleeping’ as this excludes women. This makes it harder for women to access support.
- Discreet female only services in multiple sites across the community
- Local areas to develop specific women’s pathways, services, and strategies.
- Quite simply, fund more support workers. We heard too many examples of people being moved into flats without the most basic tenancy support. People feel abandoned and set up to fail.
- Address the problem of the private sector. Local authorities need to take responsibility and ensure quality standards are met.
- More supported ‘training flats’ to ease the transition from rough sleeping to managing an independent tenancy.
- Housing First with excellent wrap around support, including peer supporters, navigators, and personal budgets. Invest in support as failed tenancies cost the system more.
- Isolation is a massive problem. People need to be part of a community; relationships, meaningful activities, positive connections, and longer-term support are central to moving away from homelessness.
Phil Parkes, volunteer coordinator for Expert Citizens commented on working alongside the NECG:
“After working very closely with the NECG for the past two years and seeing how it works I feel that it is really important if not essential that these conversations continue to be had on a national level. For one simple reason, Diversity. It is plain to see from my involvement that different things affect different areas in a variety of ways. It is only from holding these conversations on a wider scale that we can identify the best course, or courses of action to minimise the impact of many issues.”