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Housing

Tackling the stigma of homelessness

Supporting tenants and taking a compassionate approach are key to preventing homelessness, writes Guy Stenson, Director of Housing Operations at social housing provider Stonewater

Homelessness is surrounded by misconceptions and stigma, with many people still harbouring a lingering suspicion that any rough sleeper must somehow be to blame for their situation.

But one thing the past 18 months has taught us is that anybody’s life can unexpectedly change beyond recognition.

Unemployment, ill health or domestic abuse – all of which have rocketed during the pandemic – can leave any of us without financial stability, a home or even our family.

Stonewater, along with other housing providers across the country, are well aware that everyone has a story to tell and life-changing events can happen to anyone at any time.

Our support is non-judgemental and empathetic as we work to ensure all people’s voices are heard, particularly those who are marginalised, isolated and have nowhere else to turn.

Opportunities for veterans

Armed forces veterans may end up with nowhere to live for a multitude of reasons as they struggle to adjust to civilian life, sometimes grappling with physical or mental health issues.

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One of our recently completed schemes provided opportunities for homeless veterans in Herefordshire to learn new skills and find employment while helping to build their own homes.

As well as gaining valuable experience and qualifications to support them in finding work, participants now live in some of the homes they helped build – and two have been taken on full-time by our contractor.

Second chances

In our role as a social housing provider, we can do a huge amount to prevent homelessness. Eviction is always a last resort and our priority is to work with customers to resolve any issues.

One of our tenants, previously reported for anti-social behaviour, recently came out of prison following a 10-month sentence for a serious assault. Our resolution team got in touch and, after he explained more about his situation and his keenness to turn his life around, we halted eviction proceedings.

With no reports about him since, I believe our trust in him has made all the difference – enabling him to make the changes he needed to and preventing him ending up on the streets.

Another tenant, who had drug and alcohol problems, recently thanked us with an online review explaining how we helped him tackle his challenges and saved him from homelessness.

Our team also recently worked with a young Syrian refugee who we have helped overcome barriers to live in the UK and rebuild his life.

Rising need

With domestic abuse rising during the pandemic, Stonewater recognises we all have a role to play in tackling the issue.

Our South Asian Women’s Refuge (SAWR) provides housing and support to meet the needs of South Asian women and children fleeing domestic abuse, including young women forced into arranged marriages and victims of honour-based violence.

Whilst we receive referrals everyday directly to our refuges, a heavily pregnant woman called our contact centre seeking help after fleeing her abusive partner. Fortunately, we have specialist Domestic Abuse Customer Partners in our housing management team and so they were able to act fast, arranging for her to move into the refuge the following day.

Our Safe Space, in Wiltshire, provides short-term accommodation and support for members of the LGBTQ+ community who have experienced domestic abuse, discrimination, hate crime or family breakdown.

Having seen increasing demand for this service over the last year, we created extra capacity in our specialist young adults’ accommodation, retirement living schemes and empty homes to house people fleeing domestic abuse, and harnessed digital communication channels to offer one-to-one support.

We are also using our existing housing stock to provide additional accommodation for people whose needs cannot easily be met by local refuges, such as those with pets or complex needs.

Again, this has opened up transformational opportunities for people otherwise faced with the choice between remaining in a life-threatening situation or homelessness.

To find out more about how Stonewater gives everyone the opportunity to have a place they can call home, visit www.stonewater.org

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