Starts at Home day: Why providing homes and support for homeless people is so important

 Three decades ago, John Glenton began work as a chef in a supported housing scheme. Today he runs national care and support services for the same organisation, Riverside. On Starts at Home day, he reflects on the importance of providing homes and support for homeless people as uncertainty over government funding for the sector continues…

John Glenton, Riverside's Executive Director for Care and Support
John Glenton, Riverside’s Executive Director for Care and Support


This year I will celebrate 30 years working in supported housing.  As you can imagine, much has changed within the sector over that time. However, one thing remains the same: no matter how an individual may have become homeless, and whatever issues they may be working through, providing safe, secure and appropriate accommodation is essential. 

Housing is a significant part of the jigsaw when it comes to supporting people to achieve their aspirations and goals for the future. Over the years, I have worked with many different client groups and, for me, it is important to understand what is involved in a journey from rough sleeping to having your own home and a quality of life which involves meaningful activity, whether that be volunteering, employment, training or engaging in social and leisure activities. 

Many people who are either homeless or sofa-surfing have a clear purpose and structure to their life, including groups of friends. For some people, that purpose is deciding on a day of begging; for other people it is about securing funds to maintain an addiction. So when they are rehoused, their life can feel very empty, particularly when their new home is some distance away. Although providing a home is a great place to start, it is important to support people to find the other pieces of their jigsaw.

30 years ago many supported housing services provided a hot meal, a warm bed, a cup of tea and sympathy. Now we focus on working intensively in a planned, person-centred way so that by the time that person moves on to independent housing, they have begun to establish a new structure in their lives, and have gained confidence that they have the life skills to maintain a tenancy, find work or be engaged in education or training. Within Riverside we run our own peer support, volunteering and employment schemes. This means we employ people with lived experience of homelessness.  I have found that experts by experience add great value to a staff team, and they also can choose to be visible role models.

Riverside is delighted to support the Starts at Home campaign because we strongly believe it is important to encourage ambition within our staff and customer groups and not to limit future aspirations to benefit claims and a rented property. The supported housing sector makes a real difference to many people’s lives, in a cost-effective way that provides social return on investment.  That is why I was so pleased to be invited to give evidence at the parliamentary joint select committees for the future funding of supported housing. And although the risks around the local housing allowance cap are very concerning, no doubt this issue has shone a spotlight on supported housing and more people than ever are aware of the sector and the valuable contribution we make.