By John Glenton, Executive director for Riverside Care and Support and chair of the National Housing Federation homelessness steering group
Today, to mark World Homeless Day I am taking part in the Homes for Cathy National Conference in London.
Attending the conference has offered me the opportunity to reflect on the Homes for Cathy movement, why it’s so important as well as some of the progress we as an organisation have made on the commitments we have made.
In 2016 – the year the Homes for Cathy group of housing associations was formed – Shelter estimated that there were more than 257,000 homeless people in England.
The Homes for Cathy movement has challenged us as social landlords to ask ourselves what more we can do to prevent customers and families of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds from becoming homeless.
More than four million households live in social housing across the country.
As social landlords it’s out job to look after those customers.
Being part of the Homes for Cathy movement and signing up to its commitments has led to Riverside changing our policies towards customers threatened with homelessness.
Ending rough sleeping and homelessness can only be achieved if people and organisations believe they have a responsibility to end it and design processes with this goal in mind.
Being a member of Homes for Cathy has also led Riverside to take greater steps to help prevent homelessness and changed the way we allocate homes so that people with a history of homelessness are not penalised and prejudiced against when they try to rebuild their lives in a new home.
How are we getting on with some of our commitments?
Riverside work in partnership in more than 170 local authority areas, many of which include us delivering homelessness services in partnership. In one of these areas have worked with Sefton Council to create a new payment by results homelessness prevention strategy which means Riverside is only paid if we succeed in preventing homelessness.
In its first two years of operation the Sefton Families Service, which targets families with a history of failed tenancies, has achieved a 96% success rate by providing people with intensive support around benefits, debt, rent arrears, utilities, health, domestic abuse, hate crime and anti-social behaviour.
It has also saved the council £900,000.
When we signed up to Homes for Cathy, we set up a working group of colleagues from departments across Riverside – our Ending Homelessness Together Group – to ensure that tackling and preventing homelessness is firmly on everyone’s agenda and together have reviewed our Allocations Policy and have identified and are making changes to local procedures.
A key commitment at the heart of Homes for Cathy is ‘Not making any tenant homeless who is seeking to avoid it’ – Riverside has invested more than ever into tenancy sustainment work – providing funding for more colleagues to work closely with customers who are at risk of homelessness.
We have invested £2.5m into a tenancy sustainment fund of which £0.5m is available to residents for crisis loans in case they suffer for example the breakdown of a boiler or fridge freezer.
The tenancy sustainment fund also pays for the running of Riverside’s Money Advice Service which to date has helped residents claim back more than £17m in benefits and grants which they were entitled to over the past five years.
Riverside has also invested a lot of time into reviewing our policies and procedures to ensure more robust checks and support are in place before eviction is even considered.
We provide a range of furniture packages and work with our charity partner, Church Homeless Trust, to provide grants for customers when they move on to independent living. Riverside also provides the £250,000 ‘Helping Hands Fund’ which all customers can apply to help with move on costs.
Another key commitment is to lobby, challenge and inspire others to support ending homelessness.
Influencing government on all aspects of homelessness is one of Riverside’s commitments in our most recent three-year Corporate Plan.
As part of this Riverside commissioned research into local authority commissioning trends for homelessness services. Through this research we identified the problems that one-year, itty-bitty funding pots caused for customers and employees of homelessness providers.
We know the results of this research have resulted in one local authority moving from a one-year funding cycle for homelessness services to a ten-year programme giving much-needed reassurance to customers, workers in the sector and enabling providers to work with the council on a long-term strategy to tackle homelessness.
I chair the National Housing Federation’s homelessness steering group on behalf of Riverside, while our operations director Lee Buss-Blair Directors is on the Advisory Committee for the Office for Veterans Affairs, where we influence national policy on veterans’ homelessness.
As the UK’s largest provider of accommodation for people affected by homelessness and one of the country’s largest social landlords we are proud of our work which supports over 12,000 people at risk of or affected by homelessness each year.
We are pleased with the tangible progress we are making as an organisation on the Homes to Cathy commitments to prevent homelessness.
As we all experience the largest cost of living crisis for more than 40 years, the Homes for Cathy commitments are more relevant than ever and we will keep asking ourselves what more we can do to deliver on the them and support our customers to successfully avoid or move on from homelessness.