On Friday 9th November, the Bath Homelessness Conference was held at BRLSI with over 100 residents, councillors and other interested people in attendance.
Speakers represented national and local organisations Homeless Link, the Albert Kennedy Trust, Julian House, DHI and Off The Record. Each shared their approach to homelessness prevention. Chronic failures in state provision mean these organisations are filling big gaps in support. They work tirelessly to reduce both the visible and hidden homelessness in our communities. The conference put forward solutions on how to tackle this growing issue and further raise awareness of those who suffer and those who aid them.
Wera Hobhouse, MP for Bath, chaired the first session in which Rick Henderson of Homeless Link delivered the keynote speech. Lucy Bowyer from the Albert Kennedy Trust shared her experiences working with the LGBT community affected by homelessness.
Homeless Link believe everyone should have a place to call home and the support they need to keep it. Homelessness is an unnatural disaster which is 100% man-made. Rough sleeping is what happens when everything goes wrong; it is a system failure. Elements of welfare reform and a chronic housing shortage, built up over decades, have helped to create homelessness. It is only over the last few years that the government have been shamed into acting. The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and the Rough Sleeping Strategy have been published, and whilst they have merit, they need to ensure that homeless households have access to settled, affordable and suitable housing in each local authority area. We need actions, not just words.
Albert Kennedy Trust (AKT) exist to prevent LFBTQ+ youth homelessness. No young person should have to choose between a safe home and being who they are. One in four young people facing homeless identify as LGBT. That’s nearly 40,000 people. The risks of sexual exploitation and mental health problems on the streets are very real for this community; 77% of LGBT homeless cite family abandonment as the cause of their situation. AKT’s prevention strategy includes school visits and youth engagement programmes. They offer mentoring, peer support and digital services, providing both remote and local support networks. This helps them reach as many people as possible. They set up Purple Door, a house providing accommodation and support for up to six vulnerable people in crisis, and would like the funding to replicate this model.
The second session was chaired by Roanne Wootten from Julian House, and she spoke alongside David Walton from DHI and Siobainn Chaplain from Off The Record. A question and answer session followed, chaired by Gavin Thompson from the Bath Chronicle.
Julian House was set up to provide direct support to some of the most marginalised in society - the homeless. They have social enterprise projects aimed at the prevention of homelessness through meaningful activities, training and preparation for employment. Julian House offer intervention support for addiction and victims of domestic abuse. These services don’t just change lives, they save lives. Tackling homelessness isn’t as simple as building more hostels, it needs a multi-agency approach with active engagement and harm reduction. It’s about tailoring help and support to the individual, listening to their needs and acting accordingly. Julian House offer women’s only services with female support workers as a response to evidence that gender based responsive services are more effective and lead to better outcomes. They collaborate with other charities and organisations in Bath to have a wider reach, to ensure people can access the vital help and support they need. Whilst these services are stretched due to major funding cuts, it is important not to lose sight of the excellent work being done.
David Walton, Housing Director of DHI, set out the need to work with the private sector, not against it. By adopting a social investment approach, new ways of engagement can be found with the private rented sector. The use of social impact bonds has been successful. The bond involves an investor, a delivery agent such as DHI and a commissioner in either local or central government. It’s a symbiotic system with a very positive outcome. DHI are involved in a property investment fund with Home Turf Lettings and other partners where property is purchased on the open market and leased to the charity who, in turn, lease to homeless or vulnerable people whilst guaranteeing their rent for five years. They also provide a property management service minimising risk to landlords. Importantly, this is a scalable model. DHI has created something where there was a vacuum, helping those for whom help has often not been available.
Off The Record offer free confidential services for young people in the BANES area. They have been running for 24 years with no central government funding, only locally sourced investments and grants. They give young people a voice. They listen to this demographic and seek their advice in how to structure their services according to their needs. Early intervention to homelessness and mental health problems is delivered through talking therapies and counselling services, and they have just secured three years’ funding for LGBT+ projects. In 2017, they provided 7,618 sessions and worked with 1,688 young people. Their reach is impressive, and Off The Record strive to do more. They work with BANES to offer help and support to anyone aged 16 and 17 who present as homeless. Help is tailored to take people off the streets, and stop them from ever getting there in the first place.
Two people who had experienced homelessness first-hand spoke about their struggles and provided eye-opening accounts of the true face of homelessness. It can happen to anyone. The cliche that you’re only one missed paycheck away from homelessness rings true. With support from local organisations, both individuals were able to turn their lives around.
It was a thought-provoking conference, and one that gave a platform for agencies and organisations to speak to the members of the community. Methods of preventing and intervening in homeless were discussed, and how Bath as a city can eradicate this issue in the future.
Wera said: “It was an inspiring conference, and a great opportunity for people to come together to learn, listen and engage with this issue. We need to collectively take these ideas forward and work as a unit to help these members of our community. They deserve our help. We have the tools to provide it, and together we can try to eradicate both homelessness and hidden homelessness.”