“Everybody In” in Wolverhampton has been incredible. The government told local authorities to bring in all rough sleepers into hotels. They only had a few days (not months) to turnaround the project. By the Friday of that week, we had already closed the Wolverhampton Shelter. We moved the guests into the hotel and over the weekend the 70 rooms filled up.
From the outset, this project has been outcomes focussed and driven. No sooner were they in the hotel, we were already looking at ways to get them into longer term accommodation. As a result, more than 50 people have moved on from the hotel to alternative accommodation. There has been such a sense of urgency knowing that this was an opportunity not to be missed. We have now secured a commitment from all involved that no-one will be forced back out onto the streets. This is in line with Homeless Link’s “Everybody In For Good” campaign. It is an opportunity to fulfil a vision to make homelessness history at a unique time in history when it may just be possible.
The key role of partnership
A key factor in the success has been the partnerships and collaborations. Every organisation has come together in a selfless and sacrificial way. People involved have worked harder in the last 10 weeks than ever before, as we rallied together around a common vision. Each organisation has recognised the role that everyone else has to play. The neutral venue and genuinely egalitarian partnerships have also played their part.
Out of these partnerships, all service provision has been brought to the guests at the hotel. According to a mental health study in Northern Ireland after a period of rough sleeping 80% of individuals start to suffer from agoraphobia. Mental health issues are a big factor in missed appointments and lack of engagement. When drug and alcohol services attended the hotel, this changed. More than 30 people started engaging with a treatment programme. No appointments or travel, just meeting them where they are at physically, emotionally, and mentally. The same has been true of support work, health provision and other services.
The Homelessness Taskforce has been meeting for 3 years in Wolverhampton and met weekly. Representation at those meetings is present from all quarters around the virtual table: Local Authority, Wolverhampton Homes, Voluntary Sector organisations, Public Health, NHS, Drug and alcohol services, mental health, police and many others including dentists. Rick Henderson, CEO of Homeless Link says that getting Public Health to the table around homelessness may be one of the biggest positive outcomes of COVID19. In Wolverhampton, the Director of Public Health for the local authority, John Denley, has been chairing the taskforce for the last 3 years. Recognising homelessness as a public health issue is not insignificant.
A DIFFERENT CULTURE
Another factor in the success, wholly linked to the partnerships is the culture. When you put people in the right environment and treat them with dignity, respect and care for them, they respond accordingly. No more enforcement culture, rather an approach characterised by flexible tolerance and being person-centred in a psychologically informed environment. Long-term entrenched rough sleepers have consequently engaged with the service. They have found motivation in themselves to find out what their pathway out of homelessness looks like.
Maybe the learning from all of this is that seeing individual lives transformed requires a partnership approach. Organisations are called to serve one another not compete. And the culture of the partnership must put the individual back at the heart of their own pathway out of homelessness. This is some of the learning that we will be seeking to drive back into the partnership. We know we have to move forwards with a new modus operandi, aimed at making homelessness history in our city.