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The Big Issue Changemakers of 2023: Housing and homelessness

The scale of housing insecurity has not deterred these activists and support workers from stepping up to the plate. They are our 2023 changemakers

A man in a kitchen at Rene House

René House have helped more people than ever this year

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With the cost of living crisis threatening more families with homelessness, the housing crisis isn’t going away anytime soon. But these are The Big Issue’s Changemakers who in 2023 are doing all they can to put a roof over people’s heads and improve the lot of those without a home.

Find the rest of the series on the links below and pick up the magazine from your local Big Issue vendor.

Theo Brown, René House

If you give people somewhere to live their other troubles become easier to deal with. René House in Nottingham, which has received support from Big Issue Invest, is one of our 2023 changemakers. It is a living example of the Housing First model, providing accommodation, counselling and advice services. Co-founder Theo Brown talks about their work. 

What was 2022 like for René House?

During 2022 the need for services like ours grew and so as an organisation we grew. With this came new challenges and opportunities to learn. We provided more support around budgeting, as well as making sure that residents are accessing the right benefits. Although 2022 had tough times, we achieved some things that we are really proud of. We developed an outreach service with one of our local authorities, we set up more self-contained properties and we housed more families than ever. Ultimately, we are most proud of the fact we supported more residents within our community and made a bigger impact on more people in 2022 than we have done in any previous year.  

Why is your work needed?

Nottingham City Council’s waiting list for housing is over 8,000 households long. In addition, around 6,000 households present as homeless to the council each year. Housing is not the only issue: mental health, physical health and issues around addiction are holding a lot of people back. ONS studies have found a third of people who experienced moderate or high levels of depression had also borrowed money or used more credit than they expected to. This gives an insight into how the cost-of-living crisis is affecting mental health. We see the sharp end of this through the increasing numbers of people who are referred to our service.  

What are your plans for 2023?

More supported accommodation, because a good-quality package of housing and support is vital to more people realising long-term and positive outcomes. We also plan to widen our reach in terms of our service offering and explore the possibility of expanding the geographical areas we cover. Finally, as an organisation, we plan to purchase our own properties to ensure long-term stability for René House. 

Father Vitaly Novak, Depaul Ukraine

Father Viltaliy Novak
Father Vitaliy Novak of Depaul Ukraine. Photo: DePaul

Russia’s war in Ukraine has left death, displacement and injury on all sides. Anti-homelessness charity Depaul Ukraine, headed by Father Vitaliy Novak, is providing life-saving aid – reaching 23,000 people every day. The Big Issue first spoke to Father Vitaliy in March

Depaul reports that “food continues to be in short supply. “Families have made outbuildings their homes or are living in houses with blown-out windows and bomb-damaged roofs.” Depaul was established in the country in 2007 as a response to homelessness. In Ukraine temperatures can go as low as -20C, leaving many at risk of death.  

Settle

Settle is a charity for young adults when they leave the care system. It helps them to learn practical life skills, stay on top of their rent and look after their wellbeing. The charity acts as a homelessness prevention project too. “Young people face a ‘cliff edge’ when leaving the care system,” Shayane Lacey, communications manager for the charity, told The Big Issue. “Just as they transition to adulthood, their support structures diminish. 

“We’re setting up a cost-of-living fund to access things like supermarket and energy vouchers, phones and SIM cards, and growing our mental health project.” Settle supported 144 young people across London and the south-east last year. 

Tina Mayers, Shepherds Bush Families Project

Tina Mayers has been supporting families in West London for more than 30 years. As CEO of Shepherds Bush Families Project, she leads the effort to give locals the support they need to avoid or find a way out of the insecure housing cycle. She addresses not just the practical challenges of temporary, overcrowded or poor-quality housing, but the financial and psychological ones too. The centre provides everything from advice drop-ins to toy and book libraries, after-school clubs, free meals, counselling and family therapy. Mayers’ tireless involvement with local children’s services over the decades has made her a much-loved member of the community and her work will be more vital than ever in 2023 as the cost of living pushes more families into crisis.

HomeLess Made

HomeLess Made
Artworks created at HomeLess Made

HomeLess Made, a social enterprise based in Hammersmith and Fulham, London, is all about providing connections through art. They support people experiencing homelessness or mental health difficulties to help them make money from artwork they produce at their drop-in centre. Working with artists to create commercial opportunities, they also offer materials and a quiet space to work. 

“Painting helps me get through the day and manage depression and anxiety,” says artist John Sheehy. “Participating with other artists is very inspiring, and it motivates me.”

Latch

Latch – Leeds Action to Create Homes – purchases then refurbishes empty or derelict houses in Leeds, transforming them into supported housing for people experiencing homelessness. Staff and volunteers do the renovation work themselves – some have trade experience already, others learn the skills on site. Locals who need help into work are trained in trades like building, plumbing and joining. Latch completed its 100th house renovation last year, meaning 200 adults and children in the city have a safe home and the support they need to move on to independent living. The charity expects 2023 to be its busiest year yet as soaring living costs push more families into hardship.

Living Rent

There’s strength in numbers, and tenants’ union Living Rent are organising up and down Scotland, bringing together renters to “put political and economic power back where it belongs – in the hands of ordinary people”. They’ve secured big wins: from stopping evictions, winning thousands of pounds in repairs and compensation for tenants, and earning major improvements in the law. Most recently, members successfully campaigned to secure a rent freeze and eviction ban for tenants across Scotland. “The passage of this bill shows the incredible power that we have when we get organised, and fight for our essential needs,” they said. Looking onwards, the union wants to see rent controls implemented to protect tenants long term.   

Billy Dasein
Billy Dasein. Photo: DAN CLARKE OF GRIMBARIANS

Billy Dasein, East Marsh United

Dasein wanted to help create positive change in his native Grimsby, so founded East Marsh United with 15 other local residents who wanted to reinvigorate a sense of community pride. One of the initiatives the group are leading on is a ‘community housing revolution’ – the group are buying derelict houses, taking these under community ownership and refurbishing them to the highest standard. They are then aiming to give these back to the community, offering quality homes at an affordable rate. They’ve taken three homes under community ownership so far, and are continuing to fundraise to reach their long-term vision of ‘100 houses for 100 years’. 

Cromwood Housing Group

Having a roof over your head is a fundamental human right – but many tenants are faced with horrific housing conditions, such as mould, damp and poor insulation which are harmful to health. Cromwood Housing Group, a social enterprise in England, are working to change this – since their inception in 2002, they’ve housed and supported nearly 35,000 people across London and Greater Manchester. Supported by Big Issue Invest, they buy one-bedroom homes all across London, and work in partnership with councils and landlords to provide vital housing services to save the lives of people who are homeless, sleeping rough, seeking asylum and fleeing domestic abuse. “Our success is around making sure we provide really high-quality accommodation that meets the long-term housing needs for those more vulnerable clients,” Kevin Murphy, strategic director at Cromwood, told The Big Issue.

Paul Ryan and Michael Wong, Café Art

Art can be an outlet for expression, creation and connection. This is something Michael Wong and Paul Ryan know all too well, and is the driving ethos behind their social enterprise, Café Art. Café Art aims to empower those experiencing homelessness, or who have recently been homeless. They give out 100 disposable cameras to 100 people, who are given seven days to capture London through their eyes. 

A selection of the images produced are then used to create calendars, with proceeds going back to the artists. They also provide opportunities for artists with lived experience of homelessness to have their work displayed and enjoyed by audiences, while creating opportunities for them to generate a meaningful income through sales.  

Mick Clarke, The Passage

The Passage is dedicated to reducing the number of people who become homeless in the best way possible – by preventing them ever becoming homeless in the first place. 

“We do a huge amount of work preventing people ending up street homeless,” chief executive Mick Clarke told The Big Issue. “But we also do a lot of work with people who have moved on. A project called Home for Good looks at how the community can play a role with, say, the challenge of moving into a flat for the first time.” 

The Passage helped out when Prince William went to sell The Big Issue last year, and in 2023 is about to launch a rebrand, guided by service users past and present. 

Home Kitchen

Adam Simmonds
Adam Simmonds. Photo Home Kitchens

Double Michelin star-winning chef Adam Simmonds joined forces with Soup Kitchen London over the past two years to develop Home Kitchen – an initiative to tackle homelessness while easing the jobs crisis in hospitality. Home Kitchen is a pop-up restaurant in the making which is to be staffed entirely by people with experience of homelessness, from kitchen through to front of house. Sixteen staff will be given a three-week crash course in the cooking, employment and people skills needed to work in hospitality, and will be paid the London living wage for their work. Through this, they will also gain a City and Guilds professional qualification – enabling them to find work within the industry. At present, there are 400,000 job vacancies in the UK hospitality sector.  

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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