Westminster council rolls out autism toolkit to support vulnerable homeless

The strategy not only wants to deal with the problems for homeless autistic people, but help prevent homelessness in the first place

Autistic people are at significantly higher risk of being homeless according to new research.

But even though people experiencing homelessness were found to be over ten times more likely to show signs of autism, there is little autism-specific support in homeless services.

This led Westminster City Council to team up with several charities and people with lived experience to launch a new toolkit throughout England to help improve support.

Councillor Andrew Smith, Westminster City Council cabinet member for housing services, said: “In Westminster we do everything we can to support people who are homeless, or are at risk of becoming homeless.

“To do this we need to understand people as individuals, and the nuances of their situation. The new toolkit will help our teams understand autism better, and make a positive difference to people’s lives.”

Among the toolkit’s suggestions is to adapt how initial relationships are built, emphasising a consistent approach that proceeds at a speed the client is comfortable with by reducing options offered to them and using the person’s strengths to develop communication, using images to illustrate what is being said.

Homelessness and vulnerability

The research also suggests that autistic people are more vulnerable when they are homeless, as they often find communicating and interacting with others challenging. They can have trouble in understanding the behaviour of others, putting them at higher risk of violence and abuse.

Autistic people who are homeless have gone unrecognised and unsupported for far too long.

Tim Nicholls, Head of Policy at the National Autistic Society, said: “It’s well known that many autistic children and adults struggle to get the support they need and end up missing out on an education, struggling to find work and becoming socially isolated. Autistic people who are homeless have gone unrecognised and unsupported for far too long.”

For people like ‘K’ this was the case for many years. K had a long history of rough sleeping and being evicted from hostels. The reasons for these evictions included failing to engage with his key worker, not participating in fire drills and verbal aggression towards staff.

K has now been in supported housing for three years. After getting advice from the local autism assessment psychologist the team there managed to minimise conflict points and put a plan in place that works for him.

This new thinking is what the toolkit hopes to encourage, to not only to deal with the problems for homeless autistic people, but help prevent homelessness in the first place.