Staying in: how can you make sure people keep the support they need?
Blog posted by: Tasmin Maitland (Friday, 10 April 2015 - 8:00am)
With a recent rise in clients' complex needs reported by homelessness services comes an increased risk that people might lose the support they need – either by abandoning or being rejected from services. What can you do to make sure they stay in?
The needs of people living in homelessness services are becoming more complex. Last year, 76% of projects in England refused to house people because their needs were ‘too high’, and hostel managers tell us that their residents have more complex needs, especially among women and young people.
It’s clear that services need to be properly equipped and resourced to support these groups, and that they need the right approaches to help people retain that support. However, people with high needs are often the most likely to be evicted or abandon services because they haven’t followed hostel rules - perhaps falling behind with rent or demonstrating behaviour that doesn’t fit.
The resulting cycle helps no one. Repeat homelessness is not only harmful to individuals, it also damages staff morale. Understanding how to reduce evictions and abandonments gives both residents and staff the opportunity to work in a more positive and reflective way. It helps build services that offer their residents the best chance of leaving homelessness for good.
We have worked with many hostels to develop good practice around preventing evictions and abandonment. We encourage services to reflect on the efficacy of their rules and procedures. This is particularly important for staff teams that support people with higher needs, because approaches that work with low support residents might not be the right response for a more complex client group.
Flexibility and a preventative approach are essential. For example, perhaps you have house rules with a warning system, where each time a resident breaks a rule they are given a warning letter and, after so many warnings, the resident faces eviction. In practice, a flexible, personalised approach is more effective than automatic warnings. Evictions are less likely to occur if you respond to each incident by involving the resident in discussions and considering what response is appropriate - for instance, increased support, behavioural contact, or a warning - while also taking time to reflect on what part staff have played in the situation.
When it comes to rent arrears, evictions can be avoided by introducing trigger points to alert staff and residents if payments are missed. This gives you an opportunity to work with residents to stop the problem getting worse and to resolve the underlying issue – for instance, money management skills or problems with benefits.
Changing the way you work includes offering the right training and support to staff. A more personalised approach can be challenging for anyone used to following fixed procedures, and teams often have concerns about housing higher support residents in services that have been designed for lower support needs.
That’s why regular supervision with a line manager, time to reflect on practice and incident debriefs with the whole team are as important to reducing evictions and abandonments as the approach you take with residents.
Effective support for people with complex needs means taking a positive approach to issues like homelessness, drug and alcohol use, offending and mental health. Obviously, this can be challenging, particularly if you accommodate people with a wide range of needs and aspirations.
It means that making decisions about how best to support someone whose behaviour can have a negative impact on other residents and on the staff team. It means achieving a balance between offering one person the help they need while ensuring that everyone else in your service is safe and supported. It also often means putting the needs of residents above the needs of staff.
A new approach can be difficult to achieve, but making sure your team has the right skills to work with residents, and that it gets the right support from management to cope with challenging behaviour and complex needs, can make the difference between someone returning to the streets or being able to move on from homelessness for good.
Our Reducing Evictions and Abandonment training offers practical approaches to frontline staff and managers to support people to stay in your service. You can also download our Evictions and Abandonment toolkit from the Resources section.
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