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Unwise choices or uninformed decisions regarding housing options? The duty to make enquires and the implied duty to support decision making before reaching conclusions

VOICES unwise decisions
By Bruno Ornelas, Head of Service, VOICES Belinda Schweh, Chief Executive, CASCAIDr and Geoff Davies, Specialist Housing Advisor, Stoke North and Staffordshire Citizens Advice Bureau This article explores the depth to which professionals, who work with people that are street homeless, need to be prepared to exercise their professional judgement in ways which incorporates relevant laws, ethics and rights based-thinking. A good starting point is knowing what the legal rules are, together with clarity about the rules so that practitioners feel well-equipped to apply the scope of different (sometimes overlapping) legal frameworks to particular cases.  However, practitioners should also be mindful that reliance on the more procedural aspects of the law alone may not be enough, and should endeavour to interpret and apply the legal rules in ways that are underpinned by human rights principles and professional ethics. Awareness of how the courts and/or the Local Government Ombudsman have interpreted specific cases can give practitioners a critical understanding for what direction to pursue their advocacy. Pressures on local authority homelessness services can mean that homelessness applicants are not always interviewed at the earliest opportunity in order to determine what, if any, duties are owed by the authority.  This is particularly problematic for applicants who are… Continue Reading

In Plain Sight – The lives and hopes of invisible people

VOICES in plain sight
An interactive journey with storytelling buskers, following the lives of Tash and Steve; two individuals from Stoke-on-Trent who experienced homelessness and rough sleeping in their struggle to survive. Exposing the myths around rough sleeping we look at the real life stories of the people and professionals involved.  Asking our audience to identify ways to improve the journey from street to home. Why does Steve live in his car? How can Tash get a house?   VOICES are proud to have commissioned Stoke-on-Trent based arts organisations B-Arts and Rideout to coproduce an interactive promenade style production, based on real lived experiences, to explore and dispel the myths and fallacies often associated with homelessness and rough sleeping. As part of our work here at VOICES we seek to empower people experiencing multiple needs (combinations of homelessness, mental ill health, addiction and offending) to make changes to improve their lives, and to influence services to be the best that they can be to ensure the right support is available to everyone, if and when its needed. To enable this to happen work needs to be done to understand the drivers behind the barriers people experience. Telling the real stories of real people is central to achieving… Continue Reading

#seethefullpicture – Improving Access to Mental Health Services for People Facing Addiction

VOICES seethefullpicture
20th January to 16th February 2020 A campaign launched by the Fulfilling Lives Programme.   Introducing the second national communications campaign for the Fulfilling Lives Programme! On Wednesday 3rd July 2019, the Fulfilling Lives Programme launched the first-ever Multiple Disadvantage Awareness Day with the #tag #seethefullpicture. The day aimed to raise awareness of the stigma associated with Multiple Disadvantage and also the reasons why people come to face complex needs. Using a mixture of events, website and social media content, the campaign reached nearly two million people! Following on from the success of this campaign, the second national communications campaign launched on Monday 20th January 2020.   What is the aim of the second campaign? Improving Access to Mental Health Services for People Facing Addiction Substance misuse and mental ill health are the most commonly experienced needs for service users (beneficiaries) on the Fulfilling Lives Programme, and there is a high degree of overlap between the two, with 90 per cent of beneficiaries experiencing both. Fulfilling Lives partnerships report that the vast majority of clinical responses require an individual to address their substance misuse, before mental health treatment can be provided or even a needs assessment carried out. This leaves many beneficiaries in a ‘catch 22’ situation where they… Continue Reading

Communities of Practice: Update

VOICES cop sized
By Steve Freeman, Solution Focused Practitioner   The current round of @SoTCoPs began in September with a theme of Engagement and is nearing its final stages. Part of the first meeting was a discussion of the term engagement. Is this a pejorative term? Are there better terms or simply euphemisms? Sharon Sharman’s recent piece highlighted the inequity of labelling people as ‘difficult to engage’. Well worth a read https://www.voicesofstoke.org.uk/2019/08/30/please-dont-call-us-difficult-engage/ Sharon’s article mentions elements of unconscious bias. This is a process by which we act in ways that are less than helpful without thinking about it. Unconscious bias exists and it’s better to be aware of it than try to deny it. More information here https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5333436/ For the @SoTCoP Engagement series we are taking a systemic view of engagement; how can providers, communities and community members’ best engage internally and externally to maintain and improve services for people experiencing a range of challenges. What would have to happen for engagement to be seen as a skill and an objective rather than a label to stigmatise people attempting to access services? The term ‘silo mentality’ has been around for decades. Increased demand and diminishing funding for statutory and third sector bodies have made this more evident over the past… Continue Reading

EU Citizens and the right to UK benefits: Part 1: The EU Settlement Scheme

VOICES eu scheme
By Karen Dunn, Specialist Welfare Benefits Team, Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke on Trent   This article was primarily in response to questions arising from a Rough Sleeper Team query.  However the EU Settlement Scheme is open to all EU, EEA and Swiss Nationals if they can satisfy the stated conditions. There are no official figures for the number of EU migrants sleeping rough.  A Crisis report in 2018 stated that migrants (including non-EU), “clearly make up a significant proportion of the rough sleeping and wider homeless population across Britain but there are significant gaps in the data collected or published”. Of those seen rough sleeping in Greater London in 2018/2019, just under half were UK nationals (fullfact.org/online/immigration-homelessness/). Causes of EU migrant homelessness are complex and varied, for example: zero hour contracts; earnings below NMW; exploitative employers; unscrupulous landlords; sweeping welfare cuts and, not uncommonly, erroneous DWP decisions when Social Security legislative issues such as the right to reside and the habitual residence test are in play.  We have had instances where even when someone has been given Settled Status the DWP are unlawfully applying the habitual residence test and not awarding benefit. If you, or someone you are supporting is homeless or is… Continue Reading

A Persistent and Unequivocal Refusal? The Ending of Interim Accommodation

VOICES iterim accomodation BRUNO 2
The duty to provide interim accommodation The provision of interim accommodation has always been an area of contention between applicants, advisers and local authorities. Given the financial pressure on local authorities, the increasing vulnerability of many applicants and pressure on housing stock, it is has long been contested that councils may seek to maximise this scarce resource by evicting applicants who do not ‘play by the rules’. Therefore, in the context of limited resources, it becomes increasingly more important for professionals to understand which rules apply and in which circumstances. If a client is homeless or is about to be made homeless when making a homelessness application to a local authority, then there will often be a need to house that person temporarily while the local authority makes further enquiries into the applicant’s circumstances and looks for suitable permanent accommodation.  This temporary accommodation is known as interim accommodation. Section 188 of the Housing Act 1996 provides that a local authority only has a duty to provide interim accommodation where it has reason to believe that the applicant may be homeless, eligible for assistance and in priority need.  This can be provided by the local authority directly (a homelessness unit) or other organisation such… Continue Reading

Opening the too Difficult Box: Strengthening Adult Safeguarding Responses to Homelessness and Self-neglect

VOICES opening the box
By Bruno Ornelas, Head of Service, VOICES Over the next three years (2019-2022) we will take part in a research project looking at how self-neglect is experienced by people who are homeless, and how this can be addressed through strengthening local adult safeguarding responses. Along with our colleagues at King’s College London and others, our involvement in this study will be to facilitate Communities of Practice (CoPs) as a theoretically informed approach for aiding reflective practices and embedding a culture of learning and improvement. This includes engaging in participatory and action orientated methods to work collaboratively with Safeguarding Adults Boards across three English local authority areas (including Stoke-on-Trent) to identify positive practices and areas for improvement. This study is also timely given the concerns raised by government about the adequacy of safeguarding and why there have been so few Safeguarding Adults Reviews (SARs) into the deaths of people who are homeless, and whether learning from these Reviews is being implemented. VOICES collaborated in recent research which looked at themes emerging from SARs where homelessness was a contributing factor. Through this, it was highlighted that self-neglect as being a prominent category of risk that people with needs linked to multiple exclusion homelessness often face,… Continue Reading

Stoke-on-Trent Communities of Practice: New Season

By Lee Dale, Community Development Coordinator, VOICES   After a momentary pause and much reflection, we are proud to announce that once again we have started a new series of community of practice sessions. If you are unfamiliar with the concept and want to know more CLICK HERE to read a previous article, written by Steve Freeman, COP chair. Its important to say here that these sessions are not intended to be a “talking shop” and previous seasons have proven that this certainly isn’t the case. Our aim is to bring professionals and individuals with lived experience together in a safe environment to discuss and share good practice as well as highlighting barriers and system blockages within the sector. A huge part of the learning comes from the networking that takes place where discovering each others roles and what we can do for each other really adds value to our work. We run our community of practice on a monthly basis and provide refreshments and a working lunch.   If this is something you feel would add benefit to your organisation / workforce please contact our community development coordinator Lee Dale on 07769 177 192 or email [email protected] who will happily add you to the mailing list and… Continue Reading

25 years of The National Lottery

Since The National Lottery’s first draw took place on 19 November 1994, more than £40 billion has been raised for good causes in the areas of arts, sport, heritage and community.   The National Lottery has made more than 5,500 millionaires but its primary purpose is giving to good causes – over 565,000 individual grants have been awarded across the UK, that’s the equivalent of 200 life-changing projects in every UK postcode district. VOICES is funded by the National Lottery through the National Lottery Community Fund as part of Fulfilling Lives: Supporting people with multiple needs. Stoke-on-Trent is one of 12 areas to share £112m over eight years. The programme is aimed at testing alternative approaches to tackling multiple needs with a view to identifying more effective ways of working and embedding positive practice. The 25th birthday is a moment to celebrate the extraordinary impact The National Lottery has had on the UK, and to say thank you to National Lottery players for contributing around £30 million to good causes every week, and so from everyone here at VOICES, we thank you all. The official birthday is 19th November 2019 and from 14 October until 6 December the National Lottery will connect the public to… Continue Reading

Safeguarding, homelessness and rough sleeping

By Bruno Ornelas, Head of Service, VOICES Adult safeguarding has seen a considerable shift in how it responds to adults at risk of abuse and neglect. Over the last decade legislative reform has led to considerable changes in how adult safeguarding and community care is arranged and understood.  For example, placing self-neglect within adult safeguarding fundamentally re-frames notions of adult protection duties, which prior to the Care Act 2014 had focused on harm caused by a third party; this was a position maintained by governmental guidance No Secrets (DH, 2000). The Care Act 2014 also places the work overseen by local Safeguarding Adult Boards (SABs) on a statutory footing. Local authorities are now required to establish SABs to provide strategic oversight and to carry out its duty under the Care Act 2014. The specific hosting components of Schedule 2 (Care Act 2014) require Safeguarding Boards to: Publish and implement a strategic plan, publish an annual report and include reporting on findings from Safeguarding Adults Reviews (SARs), and to decide and provide reasons for when a SAR is, or is not, commissioned. (DH, 2016). Despite these legislative developments, reports by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and The Guardian highlight that SARs, where rough sleeping… Continue Reading

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