Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from The Spike

We would like to thank  everyone who has followed and commented on The Spike this year. We have had a really successful start and hope the New Year is just as positive.

Although many Governmental services around the country are closed, we realise that many voluntary and charity organisations are busy during the Christmas period. If you would like to tell us about the great work that many people are doing over this holiday period, we would love to know.

Also, please let us know about any services that are available, that would otherwise be forgotten about, for rough sleepers and homeless clients.

Once again, Thank you, we really appreciate your support. Please keep on spreading the word about The Spike.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

How important is a local connection when finding accommodation for homeless clients?

Many hostels and accommodation providers around the country have waiting lists, as the services they provide are so much in demand. But many of these will have specific criteria when considering applications. One main factor is whether the individual has a local connection to the area. This is particularly the case with councils and Local authorities when assessing duty of care.
However, by prioritising those with a local connection we seem to be making it more difficult for people to travel around the country. The reasons for moving from one place to another can be as simple as freedom of choice, to be closer to family and friends, or to leave an old lifestyle behind.

Although I understand the need to deter people flocking to particular areas, it seems that we are denying them the right to choose where they live. If they are intent on moving to a specific area, they will be forced to sleep out in a new and unfamiliar environment.

Should hostels and accommodation providers be more open to those with local connections, or is it merely a way of preventing a flood of new comers, which could over burden particular areas and services?

Monday, 29 November 2010

Working with those that continue to refuse accomodation, even during the coldest weather.

Now that winter is definatley here, cold weather provision services have been set up to ensure that everyone can access emergency accommodation.

Every year rough sleepers die on the streets, but when the weather gets very cold, many agencies set up emergency accommodation. Some cities have churches which open thier doors for the winter, such as the Church circuit in London. Many other cities work with homeless organisations to provide temporary accomodation in hostels and B&B's. Click here link for more information.
But there are still those that refuse all offers of accommodation despite the dropping temperatures. These are quite often people with mental health issues, who are considered unwell, but not seriously enough to be sectioned for their own welfare.
What can we do to ensure these clients are as safe as possible if they insist they will not leave the streets?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

At what point is a person no longer considered to be homeless?

For people with a history of rough sleeping, squatting or living in hostels moving into independent accommodation can be challenging. 
The responsibilities of having a tenancy, budgeting and paying bills, together with the possibility of loneliness and isolation, can have a big impact on whether a person can break the cycle of homelessness. But once a person has settled and is comfortable where they are how easy is it to integrate into society with out the stigma affecting relationship or friendships.
At what point does a former homeless person leave the lifestyle behind? Is is time bound or can it be a state of mind? 

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Are Personalisation Budgets the way forward in combating homelessness?

There have been many changes over the years with regards to how we work with rough sleepers and the services that are on offer to them. One of the most recent is Personalisation Budgets, also known as Individual Budgets (IB).

The idea of these budgets is to give rough sleepers control and a voice to choose what kind of support they feel they need the most. They choose a lead worker to support them within a multi agency team, and can choose how their budget will be spent in accordance with their individual suport plan.

This has been piloted by agencies in Exeter, North Devon, Northampton, London and Nottingham, who have specifically targetedentrenched rough sleepers with complex needs. To find out more about the individual pilots and the results, Click here.

In summary:

  • Exeter (found success in using it to access appropriate housing).
  • North Devon (used budgets to assist rough sleepers to settle into long term homes.)
  • Northampton (worked with the already existing service, but provided a specifically allocated worker. Also, identified three levels of care and support reqwuired by indiviasluals and provided budgets realting to these needs.)
  • London (used an already exisiting outreach worker with entrenched rough sleepers and gave the indivduals choices about accommodation options other than the 'traditional approaches' such as hostels.)
  • Nottingham (dedicated a 'rough sleepers personalisation officer' within its already exiting team, to find long term and suitable housing options for the most entrenched of rough sleepers.)

So far the findings of these pilots seem very positive. Can this be the solution to ending entrenched rough sleeping?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Are we able to solve the problem of the 'revolving door' of homelessness?

Several years ago homeless organisations acknowledged the issue of ‘the revolving door of homelessness’. Through much hard work and cooperation with other agencies specific situations were identified, which were believed to be the contributory factors of the ‘revolving door’.The main body of these factors seem to be  multiply linked to the criminal justice system, mental health issues, substance misuse, and homelessness.

In 2007 St. Mungo’s and Revolving Doors Agency (RDA) went into partnership and piloted a scheme in Islington, so as to identify ways of improving support and link work between agencies, “to prevent people from spiralling into a cycle of crisis, crime and mental health problems". Click here for link.  It seems that this scheme showed some very positive results.

Now in October 2010, the Government are looking for further ways to tackle this issue, and have identified the issue of rehousing ex-offenders upon release. Click here for link.

While I understand that the lack of access to accommodation can be a contributory factor to re-offending rates, I don’t see how we can be specifically identify private sector accommodation as the solution to this issue. There is already pressure on the agencies to find appropriate accommodation options for homeless clients, within a limited stock of housing resources.

Can we be doing more to improve links between agencies and for service users or is the ‘System’ partly responsible for this ‘revolving door' of homelessness? What are the solutions?

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Are sponsored sleep outs a good way of highlighting homelessness?

There seems to be a growing trend by some homelessness agencies to raise funds and highlight the issues of homelessness by organising sponsored sleep outs. Most recently the new president of the YMCA, Sir Richard Dannant, slept out along with Norfolk’s High Sheriff Charles Barratt and Judge Phillip Curl. Click here for link and short video 
While I commend those who try to accurately experience a night on the streets, I feel despair when I hear about those who turn a sponsored sleep out into some kind of camping holiday, all night street party and publicity stunt. For people that have to sleep rough this kind of fund-raising may be seen as patronising and very disrespectful.
 It seems that fund-raising teams are running out of ideas. Maybe we (the readers of The Spike) should help them out with a few suggestions, that would be less disrespectful to rough sleepers and those that sleep out in the cold every night.

Monday, 25 October 2010

How will the Community Spending Review cuts really affect homelessness and what are the solutions?

It seems that there are several different ways the Community Spending Review will impact upon homeless clients:   
  • Changes to Housing Benefit payments. Anyone under 35 years old (previously 25 years old) will receive just enough to cover the cost of a shared house. Will this affect those living in hostels? How will it affect those single people already in independent accommodation settling after years of homelessness?
  • Council Tax Benefit is to be reduced by 10%. How will this affect those already struggling to keep up with household bills and payments?
  • Changes to ESA (Employment Support Allowance) and JSA (Job Seekers Allowance) payments depending on contributions made and length receiving specific benefits. How will this affect those most vulnerable and unable to work?
  • Less funding for probation services, yet fewer people sent to prison. Where do offenders get support from and where is the incentive to prevent people reoffending?
Please comment if you can identify any more areas relating to homelessness that will be affected by the spending review, with any comments for solutions.

Monday, 18 October 2010

End rough sleeping by 2012. Is this realistic?

The government (London Delivery Board) have stuck to its plan of ending rough sleeping in London by 2012. It initially began by targeting entrenched rough sleepers and is now planning to open something called The Hub. Which would seem to act as a short stay hostel for rough sleepers (three nights max). See Inside Housing link for further details.Click Here

 If we consider the many ways in which people become homeless and the issues they face, as well as the lack of accommodation, is this a realistic plan? For many outreach workers it can be almost impossible to get access to accommodation at short notice. Although I understand the importance of reducing the length of time people are on the streets, additional resources need to be provided by the Government to enable outreach workers to tackle this issue head on. At the moment I don’t see any commitment from the government to provide additional resources.
 I wonder if the sceptics are right when they say that this commitment to reduce homelessness to near zero is an excuse to tidy up London before the 2012 Olympics and less about the social injustice of people falling through the net and having to live on the streets until help finds them.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Do front line homelessness workers need vocational qualifications?

Engage to Change has been developed by Homeless Link, Broadway and CIH (Chartered Institute of Housing) and is a qualification for people working in homelessness services. The course includes topics such as Professional Practice Skills, Client Involvement, Homeless Services and Prevention, Addressing Need, Building Capacity and Promoting Choice. See the link below for more information about the course. 
All homelessness front line workers should have CRB checks (Criminal record bureau), but do they need formal recognition and professional standards? Most outreach workers bring with them their own experiences (personal or employment) and knowledge to the job and find that the skills required are vast ranging. Does this course build on their already broad skills base or is it a professional label?
Will it assist workers in their job, and help to reduce homelessness by creating more effect working?

We would particularly love to hear from anyone that has done or is doing the course.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Why are there so few housing options for homeless couples?

Although a high proportion of rough sleepers are single men, there are times when, despite all the odds, people form relationships whilst on the streets. From experience, working with couples can be very challenging. It is the responsibility of an outreach worker to undertake an assessment for each individual and ensure each persons needs are fully understood. However, at no stage of the assessment process is the relationship status of an individual considered. A joint plan must be decided between the couple with regards to accommodation. This is all achievable until a search for hostels is undertaken and it becomes evident that there are only a handful of places in the country that take couples and when they do, there is never a guarantee that two beds are available on the same day.

Why are there so few hostels willing to accept couples? Is it the complicated nature of clients being in relationships, or is it all about housing benefits, bed spaces and allocations?

What are the other options for couples if there aren’t any suitable facilities in their area? Should homeless couples be forced to either sleep on the streets until they can access local authority housing (if they are entitled to it), or end their relationship?

Monday, 27 September 2010

No Recourse to Public Funds and Homeless

What services are available to those who are homeless and have no access to public funds?
The Home office has produced a document stating exactly what people can and can not access regarding benefits, which is a good starting point. Please see attached link.

For outreach workers and front line staff who have contact with rough sleepers and homeless clients, this is not enough information. We need to know what other services are out there so that people can eat, sleep and survive.

First, the age old debate of soup runs and food hand outs and whether they encourage people to maintain a life on the streets, or assist people by providing access to a valuable source of free food. For those that have no money, for whatever reason at least it is an opportunity for them get clean and healthy food, instead of starving, raiding bins, or worse cooking and eating rats (see blog discussion from the week of 12th September ).

Secondly, using day centres. Where people can make contact with local services (usually outside agencies have regular sessions, such as nurses, mental health workers, benefits advisors or legal advice) which they may otherwise feel unsure about accessing. Day centres usually have a clothing store, washing facilities and offer hot drinks, some also allow service users to use them as a care of address.

But, What else?
Women with no recourse to funds and who are trapped in relationships which are possibly abusive or violent, there is little help as refuges tend to require their service users to be on benefits. The Women’s Resource Centre has been campaigning for action, Click Here 
Those who need medical care, there is the option of accessing an HC1 or HC2 form, which can help with the cost of prescriptions, dental treatment, sight tests and paying for glasses, travel to and from hospital for treatment or for wigs and fabric supports. (Please note, I can not confirm that applications for these items are always accepted, as I have not used these forms. I would like to hear about applications that others have made and if they have been successful).

Any other suggestions would be much appreciated, please add your comments.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

What difference will changes to the way street counts are conducted make to the way we tackle homelessness?

In the lead up to the election, Grant Shapps promised changes. This week we have seen these changes implemented in a document produced by the Communities and Local Government body
(CGL )called Evaluating the Extent of Rough Sleeping: A new approach

New guidelines have been introduced with regards to both counting rough sleepers and undertaking counts. Previously only local authorities that had more than 10 rough sleepers (known as ‘hotspots’) were required to undertake a count. Now all local authorities are required to. However, once a count has been done, local authorities can decide how they supply the information, including the option of providing an estimate rather than an actual count number. Within these guidelines, there have also been changes to the way rough sleepers are counted. For the first time those that look like they are about to bed down, as well as those in tents, can be included within the count.
What difference will these changes actually make to the way we tackle homelessness? The new figures produced by these guidelines will show a more accurate indication of the number of rough sleepers, but will there be any extra support for the services working with this client group, or will we continue to see more and more cuts in funding?

Sunday, 12 September 2010

The Expulsion of Homeless EEA Nationals.

The Roma people and many others have left their native countries and moved legally to a fellow EU Member state in search of a better and more prosperous life. Many of these people are, however, unable to find work and are soon perceived to be placing a burden on their new country.

It is clearly evident that many people who find themselves in this position are desperate to avoid deportation to their native country. A fact best demonstrated by reports of outreach workers finding people cooking and eating rats just to survive(see link -

An inevitable result of this situation is an increase in the number of rough sleepers as people at risk of 'disappearing' in an effort to avoid deportation.

As a long established EU Member should the British Government take responsibility for these people and provide them with the same benefits and services as a British Citizen? Or, are they just an additional burden on Britain?

Monday, 6 September 2010

Are we supporting homeless ex-service men and women enough?

When completing housing and hostel referral forms, very few request information about serving history, discharge or even mention service personnel. We look at providing support for many of the bi-products related to serving in the forces, such as mental health issues, alcohol or drug abuse. But, we fail to acknowledge institutionalisation which can make 'civi street' very hard to cope with and life in general.
Although there are services to assist ex-service men with everyday issues, such as SSAFA, we as outreach workers do not specialise in this specific need as some may in mental health or addictions. I doubt that many workers have been offered training around such an issue.

How can we best prepare ourselves to effectively support ex-service men and women, so that we can assess their needs thoroughly and access services effectively?

(picture by Stuart Griffiths© ,

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Homeless Clients and Dogs

For many rough sleepers parting with a dog is inconceivable. We know that the relationship between an owner and a dog can be a strong one, providing an emotional bond, personal safety and security, it can alleviate loneliness and even raise self esteem. There are some very good services which support homeless clients to look after their pets, such as The Dogs Trust with their Freedom Project and Hope Project (
So many hostels still refuse clients with pets, while those that do, have waiting lists.

However there is always more than one side of the story. What about those that have dogs, yet show them very little affection and care? Or clients that are struggling to look after themselves, let alone another being.
Should we be calling the RSPCA or the Dog Warden and what can they actually do? Or should we take matters into our own hands?

(picture by Matthew Halstead )

Monday, 23 August 2010

Benefit cuts to those refusing to engage with alcohol or drug treatments.

Would proposals to cut benefits to those addicted to alcohol or drugs, and refuse to enter into treatment have the desired effect of encouraging them to 'kick' the habit? Or, would a cut in benefits lead users to commit crime to further fund habits, thereby increasing conviction rates and prison numbers?

People can not be forced into quitting an addiction, they have to want to do it for themselves and not because the government or a judge say they should. Personal determination is the key to their strength.
For anyone not ready to make the change, I doubt that the threat of loosing benefits has an impact. Some addicts, may have either committed a crime or thought about committing a crime in order to fund their habit and supplement their primary income.
By removing benefits, addicts will surely be forced to find ever more activities to fund habits. I wonder what is more cost effective, paying benefits to an individual, drug treatment services for those that want to change or paying for extra police time, as well as courts and prison costs.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Mental Health Services and Chaotic Rough Sleepers

Chaotic and entrenched rough sleepers can be hard to track down by even the most experienced of outreach and front line workers. Can we really say they that their needs are being fully met? Are mental and physical health services willing to go a step further or do we have to wait for them to become so unwell they 'become a danger to themselves or others'?

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Busking is more acceptable than begging.

Many of our cities seem to be trying to tackle begging by encouraging busking. But is this really dealing with the issue, or are they just making it a legitimate form of begging and therefore more socially acceptable?

Sunday, 1 August 2010

The impact of Government spending cuts

Given that Government spending cuts will potentially affect front line services, is Britain facing a new homelessness crisis?

Sunday, 25 July 2010

How much is too much?

Being on the front line is both rewarding and challenging. At times the challenge can go too far. When a client is verbally or physically abusive, where do we draw the line?
How do we protect ourselves emotionally and physically, while continuing to provide a service to our clients?

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Lifestyle choice or mental health issue?

Entrenched rough sleeping is a difficult and often sensitive issue. These clients have been on the streets for so long and yet seem to be coping well in so many ways. But at what point do we take a step back and say it is a lifestyle choice or delve deeper? Are there underlying mental health issues, that are preventing them from accepting accommodation?