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Day centres and homelessness prevention

“We’re just a warm dry place with activities and access to on-site or off-site services” Small Day Centre, West Midlands

Day centres are often the first port of call for people at risk of homelessness or already experiencing it. They may not always look shiny and new but they offer an incredibly flexible provision, delivering person-centred support and linking people to expert advice. They are usually open access and ready to support anyone in need who comes through the door. 

Day centres are under-valued, sometimes even by themselves - you do more prevention work than you think and it’s time to start shouting about it! However, as the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act approaches, government and local authorities are waking up to the ‘mixed method’ approaches to homelessness prevention that are the daily bread of most day centres. It’s time for day centres to step out of the shadows and into the limelight.

So what is ‘homelessness prevention’?

I’m lucky enough to get to travel around the country meeting services from all different regions, hearing about their work and discussing key topics of interest with them. From talking to people on these visits, it became clear that day centres (along with most homelessness services) are unaware of how much of their work could be considered as “homelessness prevention”.  

When we talk about prevention, people tend to think of the most literal meaning: schemes to prevent eviction, maximising income, intervening with landlords or even, advocating in court.  These are essential pieces of work that many day centres do well; however, prevention is much broader than that.

I asked people from 28 different day centres what they thought prevention was: although, initially, they talked about ‘stopping someone from being homeless in the first place’, they quickly expanded on the term, coming up with these three main types of prevention:

  1. Preventing someone losing their home – e.g. preventing evictions
  2. Helping someone out of homelessness – preventing long-term or entrenched homelessness
  3. Helping someone keep their home – preventing repeat homelessness

It’s not just homelessness services that think prevention is about more than stopping evictions. The government has defined it as “providing people with the ways and means to address their housing and other needs to avoid homelessness” and specifically includes both recovery (accommodation and support targeted at helping people to exit homelessness rapidly) and move-on (to sustain independent living) in their understanding.

When you consider these different dimensions, it becomes clear that most of the work that day centres do aims to prevent initial, long-term or repeat homelessness.

Schemes like ‘No Second Night Out’ and other emergency provision or rapid access schemes aim to prevent people spending any significant periods sleeping rough. The provision of timely advice and support enables people to take steps to deal with issues in their existing accommodation or access more stable housing. Providing activities, such as art and drama, builds confidence and resilience to help people stabilise their lives, better equipping them to exit homelessness and move on to better futures. Almost everything that we do prevents homelessness in some way.

I also surveyed 87-day centres about their work and views on prevention. The survey highlighted the huge amount of work that day centres do, with over 95% providing support with housing and referrals, benefits, debt, education, training and employment and maintaining a tenancy.

Day centres have so many strengths and these were reflected in both the survey and focus groups. They provide warm, welcoming spaces where people feel safe and can start to build trusting relationships with services. They open their doors to other services to make it easier for people to access them, as well as forming partnerships beyond in the wider community. Day centres help to build peoples’ self-esteem and empower them to move forward. 

Homeless Link’s report ‘Stopping homelessness before it starts (again)’ focuses on homelessness prevention in day centres. The report further champions the work that day centres do and gives them the tools to shout about their impact.

Stopping homelessness before it starts (again), a report on homelessness prevention and day centres.

Channel website: http://www.homelesslink.org.uk

Original article link: https://www.homeless.org.uk/connect/blogs/2018/jan/26/day-centres-and-homelessness-prevention

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