By Colette McKune MBE, CEO at ForHousing

It really can happen to anyone.

That’s one of the key lessons that lockdown has taught us about the homelessness challenge we are facing.

Public and media perceptions of who ends up living on our streets or sofa surfing are narrow.

The reality is very different. We have an opportunity to reframe the story of how people end up facing homelessness, and what needs to be done about it.

Throughout the pandemic – and long before COVID-19 – we’ve worked closely with people from all kinds of backgrounds, from those leaving the care system and military veterans to ex-offenders and those being discharged from hospitals and mental health facilities.

Often the story is the same, they leave the institutions and facilities currently caring for them and are plunged into a world of uncertainty. Often, they end up right back where they started – whether that be a hospital bed or in the criminal justice system.

Those who work in homelessness and healthcare know only too well that poverty and health inequalities contribute to homelessness.

It is hugely detrimental for people’s physical and mental health to end up back on the streets or desperately searching for a place to stay after being treated in hospital.

We’re really proud to be part of two projects to help ensure homeless people who have been in hospital have a home to go to when they are discharged – and just as importantly, tailored support to suit their individual needs and break the cycle.

The first of these launched in the summer – a £1.8 million partnership with Greater Manchester Mental Health Foundation Trust which has supported ten people from Salford who had been in hospital receiving mental health treatment into a new permanent home. I’m pleased to say this project will now run to March 2022.

Our Housing Support Officer, Sara, is doing a brilliant job of empowering each individual to take control of their own tenancy, boost their wellbeing and feel confident in looking after their new home and finances.

On World Homeless Day we were pleased to launch a new initiative offering a home for homeless people leaving hospital after treatment for physical health problems.

Funded with £300,000 from the Department for Health and Social Care and working with Salford Primary Care Together, Salford City Council and other partners, we’re providing eight accessible homes.

Our goal is to share learnings and best practice from these projects as they emerge to help us continuously improve and so others can replicate the approach.

At the heart of both these projects is collaborative working with partners.

This has also been at the core of our package of measures to improve life chances and create new possibilities for young people leaving care.

Everyone deserves a stable home, and we believe that by working collaboratively and with care we can put an end to homelessness.

We know care leavers are at increased risk of homelessness, poverty and poor health. Our goal, even since before making our pledge with the other members of Greater Manchester Housing Providers Group, has been to provide those leaving care with the same support as young people who have close family.

We’ve provided homes to 23 young people in the past year, training to help them learn to sustain their tenancy, helped to source furniture, assisted them into education and employment and worked with people to secure affordable internet access which is vital in the current work climate.

This wouldn’t have been possible without the close partnership we have with Salford City Council.

Committed to long-term change

When I speak to my colleagues and others in the housing sector, there is a shared recognition that the COVID-19 pandemic sparked the removal of red tape and barriers, a new spirit of collaboration and proof that rapid transformation can happen when everyone is focused on the same goal.

This was definitely true when I reflect on how we came together to support people who were experiencing homelessness at the same time as the nation went into lockdown.

‘Everyone In’ successfully helped tens of thousands of rough sleepers safely off the streets and into temporary accommodation like hotels.

Existing partnerships between councils, housing associations and the voluntary sector were strengthened and new, rapid responses and ways of working and communicating were quickly developed.

We worked closely with local authorities in Salford, Knowsley and West Cheshire to provide 139 homes for temporary accommodation – with 43 people going on to secure permanent homes with ForHousing.

At ForHousing we are absolutely committed to tackling the homelessness crisis in a sustainable way.

Prior to the pandemic we were already doing this; our forfutures team provides a homelessness support service for Cheshire West and Chester Council that has worked with more than 3,720 people since it was founded in 2018.

In the past year 43% of homes let went to people and families who were previously homeless, at risk of homelessness or sleeping rough. We’re also proud to have not evicted any tenant for a breach of their tenancy agreement, instead we’ve worked with them to resolve the matter.  We have been building new specialist accommodation with expert wrap-around support, are providing tenancy sustainment support to more than 750 people in Salford and Knowsley and have been strengthening effective partnerships.

As people at the sharpest end of inequalities felt the repercussions of the pandemic even more harshly, we remained focused on this and learned a great deal in the process.

Now we need to show how this can turn into long term systemic change which enables people to not just survive but to thrive.

For example, we welcomed tenants into the final phase of ForHousing’s new Homeless Prevention Homes in Salford in April. We’ve transformed three former garage sites to repurpose the space.

We’re proud to have developed 39 aspirational homes for people facing homelessness that help fuel potential through wrap-around support. All 39 of the tenants, including eight care leavers, are sustaining their tenancies and several people are now in full-time employment.

By bringing forward what we’ve learned from this scheme, we’re now progressing two similar developments aimed at people facing homelessness and are sharing best practice with other housing providers considering similar approaches.

But we don’t do this alone.

As housing associations, we can make a difference, but by collaborating across councils, landlords, the voluntary sector and health services as we have done during the pandemic we can make a much greater, lasting impact.