Good quality accommodation has been a key part of Newcastle’s attempts to prevent homelessness Credit: Adele Irving/Northumbria University
A city-wide effort to prevent homelessness in Newcastle has won a prestigious international award after stopping 24,000 households from losing their homes in the last six years.
The city council brought together more than 100 local organisations to provide help with debts, welfare and housing to tackle the root causes of homelessness before they pushed people onto the streets.
The Active Inclusion approach was named one of two gold award winners at this year’s World Habitat Awards.
Leilani Farha, an awards judge and former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, heaped praise on the Newcastle project and called for the lessons learned in the city to be shared with cities around the world.
Farha said: “The programme shows that the City Council not only understands that homelessness is a human rights concern that must be addressed urgently, but it also demonstrates that preventing homelessness is the only way to truly solve it.”
The Active Inclusion partnership aims to support residents to have a stable life by identifying and supporting people who are at risk of homelessness and stepping in before they reach crisis point.
This approach sees organisations work together to tackle the root causes of homelessness, addressing debt and access to welfare issues to increase residents’ income and reduce their expenditure to stop them falling into difficulties.
Newcastle City Council say that this has helped 24,000 households since 2014, including people like 52-year-old Jacqui*.
Jacqui was living in a private tenancy in such a state that she hadn’t had a working oven for two years and had to contend with the bedroom ceiling collapsing and a rat infestation.
The Newcastle coalition connected her with organisations to deal with her debts as well as moving her to a social housing property closer to her family.
Jacqui said: “My job was to keep my grandson safe – I was getting more depressed by the day and knew I needed to get out of there. I thought, I’m going to be here forever, I’m going to die in this house. I hated it. I’d sit and cry every day.
“If it wasn’t for them [the Council] coming in and helping us, I’d still be sitting in exactly the same situation as I was. I feel happy, people say they haven’t seen me smile for so long. I was always so miserable all the time! Now I can just breathe, I’m not worrying all the time.”
Responding to the awards victory, Newcastle City Council deputy leader Joyce McCarty has vowed to “share our expertise and ideas” with cities around the world.
Judges were particularly impressed with Newcastle’s commitment to prevention, especially at a time when a decade-long programme of austerity slashed municipal budgets by almost a third and also saw welfare spending cut back.
David Ireland, chief executive of World Habitat, said: “Prevention is always better than a cure. But it often goes unnoticed and undervalued. This remarkable long-running project in Newcastle is so special because it has taken a whole city approach to preventing homelessness.
“They are able to identify people who are at risk – sometimes before they even know it themselves – and take preventative action.”
Each year the World Habitat Awards are presented to the most outstanding and innovative housing projects from across the world.
Alongside Newcastle’s prevention programme, the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) also won a gold award for efforts to protect villages from natural disasters.
AKAH geologists use satellite images and risk-mapping tools as well as tapping into residents’ local knowledge to develop disaster management plans and establish residential and economic zones.
The project has conducted hazard, vulnerability and risk assessments across 785 settlements which have allowed them to maintain and improve 20,000 homes as well as constructing 4,000 shelters for internally displaced people.
AKAH have trained 50,000 local resident volunteers in community based disaster risk management as well as creating 280 community disaster management plans to ensure they are prepared to deal with floods, earthquakes or other disasters.
Several projects were also awarded silver and bronze awards, including Compressed Earth Bricks and Community Enterprises in Nepal which helps local entrepreneurs to build eco-friendly homes and create sustainable micro-enterprises in communities affected by disasters.
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