Housing

How Everyone In helped women into Housing First

Everyone In changed homelessness in England and could be a precursor to the groundbreaking Housing First scheme.

Domestic abuse is a key driver of homelessness among women in Scotland

Statistics show domestic abuse is the main cause of women’s homelessness in Scotland. Credit: Jackie_Chance, Pixabay

The Everyone In scheme changed the face of street homelessness across England.

After years of lofty ambitions and ministers’ promises to end rough sleeping, government action last March made an immediate difference, bringing everyone in off the streets to protect them from the Covid-19 virus.

In effect, this action was a quasi-form of Housing First, the celebrated model which sees rough sleepers given a home alongside support to help them keep their tenancy and tackle their problems.

And it was music to the ears of Rhiannon Barrow, Housing First team manager at Solace Women’s Aid. Barrow runs the women’s charity’s Housing First projects in Islington and Westminster, supporting 26 women across both schemes.

For her, Everyone In and the efforts to bring 37,000 vulnerable people – nine times the official 2019 rough sleeping count of 4,226 people – was hard to fathom.

“I would never have imagined a year ago that this would happen,” Barrow tells The Big Issue. “I don’t want to be like this is a silver lining of the pandemic, but it has been one of the things that has been halfway decent and has changed the lives of some of our clients.”

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Housing First has been successful abroad and continues to grow across England and the rest of the UK. Women’s Solace Aid has already proven the model’s worth for women in London.

The charity has been supporting women in Islington since 2018 and following that up with a project in Westminster the following year.

Here the model is used to help women facing multiple disadvantages, including domestic abuse, and Barrow explains Housing First can make inroads into issues that are specific to women.

She says: “In Housing First one of the principles is choice and control. We don’t ever say to the women we support, you have to leave right now. It’s building trust and supporting them to raise awareness of their situation.”

The support provided is intense. Each Women’s Solace Aid case worker supports five women and the pandemic has meant elements of that face-to-face help have been challenging. 

But the Everyone In scheme meant the women had one vital thing they didn’t have before the pandemic: a home. Even a hotel room provided a stable base to help women flee abusive partners and on their journey to independent living.

Barrow says: “Housing First is very, very difficult. You need to be meeting people just to build a rapport and build up that trust. And it’s very difficult to do that when you can’t see people face to face.

“A week before the second lockdown was announced, we were trying to meet all the women. It was so much easier to do it when they had a stable base, when they were in the hotels whereas opposed to 2019, when we were searching the streets for hours and hours at a time.”

The challenge of ending homelessness in the UK is nowhere near over.

In the three months following the first national lockdown – between July and September last year – 197 women were spotted living on the streets in Westminster as well as 13 in Islington. And that’s according to London CHAIN figures which can “underestimate”, says Barrow, pointing out the difficulties in verifying women as homeless

Calls for a repeat of March’s Everyone In efforts through the current national lockdown were only partially sated by Jenrick’s January 8 announcement of £10 million in funding for councils ”redouble their efforts” to protect rough sleepers.

And the challenge of moving people on to permanent homes is ongoing, depending on available good quality, affordable housing and the long-term funding to provide support to go with it. A further £212m was announced last week to help that process.

A National Audit Office (NAO) report into the Everyone In scheme in January said that councils expect to spend £170 million during the current financial year on rehousing rough sleepers.

That’s not counting the bill many are footing to support migrants who have no access to benefits – in September 2,000 people supported in London hotels were ineligible for state support while some councils are putting up migrants, some are not. As homelessness experts continually put it, Everyone In must mean everyone in regardless of nationality or immigration status.

Here Solace Women’s Aid has been able to make inroads too.

Barrow’s Solace colleague Maud Bruton told The Big Issue that one of the women she supported – referred to here as Ellen, although that is not her real name – was able to resolve her immigration status through the pandemic with her own apartment as a safe and stable base.

That vital step brings to an end several years spent sleeping rough on London’s streets after Ellen lost her job in a hotel. This is the kind of opportunity Everyone In has created – to deal with long-standing homelessness for good.

As of the last count in January, 11,263 people remained in emergency accommodation through the Everyone In scheme while 26,167 people had moved on to permanent accommodation.

There is much to do and the NAO has called on the Government to set out its plans beyond the pandemic. The departed Rough Sleeping Task Force head Baroness Louise Casey was due to review rough sleeping across the country to see how the target of ending rough sleeping by 2024 could be met – there is sign of a review.

One thing is clear: Housing First will have a central role to play in the Government’s future plans and through Solace Women’s Aid, at least, it continues to change women’s lives.

 “All these women ever wanted is to have a flat of their own. And it’s decent, affordable accommodation. So for that they’re really, really grateful,” says Barrow.

That’s why Housing First in Westminster has been a success mostly in part to the provision of the long term accommodation because we can go up to these women and go: ‘Oh, we’ll support you and we’re not really going to really gain the trust.’ 

“They want the housing and because we’ve actually come through with housing and support these women have been able to actually trust us.”

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