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Zero evictions – turning theory into practice

In the audience at the recent Wales Housing Research Conference 2020 were four students from Cardiff Metropolitan University. In the first in a series of blogs sharing their impressions, Natasha Ham reflects on the gap between ideas and delivery in Welsh housing and homelessness.

On my way to the Wales Housing Research Conference 2020, I started to think about how quickly time passes us by. Halfway into the first month of the year, I was a step closer to finishing my MSc in Housing. I have always been passionate about housing. After all, many housing professionals have the same aim – to make lives better. For me, learning is not just about gaining knowledge but also about having the ability to make real change for the better.

As I arrived, I began reading through the programme and pondered on one plenary in particular: ‘The implementation gap: between ideals and delivery in Welsh housing and homelessness’. I was excited to listen to Jennie Bibbings from Shelter Cymru speak about the topic. Perhaps that was because I already encompass a real passion for preventing homelessness and evictions. This is why I’m currently working within the sector as a senior neighbourhood income coach, striving to sustain tenancies and prevent evictions for those in rent arrears through the coaching model.

As Jennie began to deliver her presentation, it was clear that the system used to determine if those facing homelessness can be rehoused isn’t fit for purpose. It’s complex to navigate through for both the consumer and the user. Additionally, individuals can fall through gaps in the legislation when offered substandard intermediate accommodation. The session explored the idea that in an ideal world, we would introduce a simple system comprising of two questions:

1) Are you homeless?

2) What help do you need?

By this point I was captivated. I was beginning to think about this system – relieving pressure for those who are homeless. A system whereby there is no need to satisfy a long and complex criteria in order to receive assistance. I’ve always felt that no member of society should be left without the basic need of a home nor have to endure a lengthy and complex process in order to ascertain accommodation.

Finding myself deep in thought, I contemplated real ways the sector can achieve zero evictions and eradicate homelessness within the UK. Although this system would enable all individuals to be rehoused (assuming there are no supply and demand issues), we have to think about how to help those being rehoused who are unable to sustain tenancies and exit the homelessness cycle permanently.

Often, there’s great difficulty for those with support needs, suffering from mental ill health, substance misuse or living chaotic lifestyles. This impacts the ability to sustain a tenancy. These individuals are often labelled as vulnerable and can be perceived as long standing members of the cycle of homelessness, because they are unable to comply with terms of tenancy agreements or temporary accommodation policies.

Quite often there’s a need for several interventions from an array of agencies, such as social services, drug and alcohol specialists, tenancy support workers, GPs etc. There are two issues with this.

First, these members of society may struggle to attend the amount of appointments necessary. Surely we shouldn’t expect vulnerable individuals to attend so many different appointments with different agencies, in order to keep a right for housing? Especially if these individuals struggle to trust, re-tell their story over and over again or find it impossible to remember so many appointments. Additionally for those who are struggling with substance misuse or mental ill health, early appointments are often inadequate due to a lack of sleep the night before.

Second, these individuals may break licences or tenancy agreements by returning to their accommodation intoxicated or under the influence of a substance. Again, how can we expect those who are addicted to substances to not be under the influence just to keep a right to a home? Surely those who are in this position need time/support to recover and are unable to just go ‘cold turkey’ due to health implications.

Attending the conference and listening to Jennie inspired me to think of a need for a more intensive approach, like the housing first model in France. One where vulnerable members of society can access all specialists in one place – their supported accommodation. One which doesn’t discriminate against those with addiction issues. Perhaps if we strive to sustain tenancies, zero evictions into homelessness may become reality.

The Wales Housing Research Conference 2020 was held in January at Cardiff University and co-hosted by the WISERD Wales Housing Research Network, the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence, Shelter Cymru and Welsh Government.

Natasha Ham is a student on the MSc Advanced Practice (Housing) course at Cardiff Metropolitan University


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