These days, I find whenever I visit the High Street area, as I did yesterday, I invariably get to meet some interesting people. Firstly, I met up with an activist friend and our conversation soon turned to various aspects associated with helping the homeless, which as regular readers will know is a particular passion of mine these days. My friend observed that in trying to help someone find suitable accommodation he found all sorts of barriers, including lack of suitable property, lack of guarantor, stigma toward the type of person being helped and, significantly, a lack of the rent deposit that many landlords look for in order to protect their interests.
I later bumped into a rough sleeper friend who was also looking to find accommodation. He had an alcohol problem, evidenced by the can of beer by his side, but he was better off in this respect than some rough sleepers I know. He told me that he was currently being bounced between at least two agencies that might be in a position to help, like the ball in a pinball machine, and was tempted to give up in exasperation and find comfort in the can he was carrying. After that I came across some old friends working for Turning Tides, doing a stall in the high street. My mind went back to around five years ago when I was working for that organization and also to a report they commissioned me to do on rent deposit schemes.
Three unplanned meetings in one day had, you guessed it, one common factor – rent deposit schemes as being one way to help get homeless people into suitable, albeit modest, accommodation. Of course, it is never quite as simple as that, as it never is, and there are a number of agencies around in the town who are already doing their bit, although a lot more is needed. If one were to start something new it would be wise to recognize and work within this paradigm. It would be also wise to recognize the range of needs and circumstances among homeless folk and that a good number need suitable support, without which even if they did find suitable accommodation we might be setting them up for failure.
Having re-read my report, while five years on things have changed, many or most of the points made are still valid and relevant. I am also aware of my own circumstances, with health limitations etc., that taking on a project that seeks to do something about the gaps in service provision that is still all too evident may be one undertaking too far, at least as far as I’m concerned, but maybe it is something I could support should someone or a group try to set up something like a rent deposit scheme. The basic idea is simple. We lend the people money to act as a rent deposit and they repay that deposit when able or when they complete their tenancy. There is a risk of people defaulting on their loans but less than one might imagine, especially if properly managed. By having this “hold” on people we help we can insist on applying “tough love” principles to ensure the new tenant acts responsibly and we also look to ensure that other support needs are provided: emotional, education, employment.
Anyway, I throw out this idea in the hope there will be readers that might take the bait. I have found working as a long as I have among this client group that many ideas do get floated around and with many it is a matter of placing them on the back burner until the time is right. Just maybe the time is right now for this one. The needs as I have often said are many and various and there is room for anyone, with the heart to help, to do so. Besides catching the vision and having the will and staying power to realize that vision, realizing there will be many challenges including for many it is more than finding a suitable home and that the key is to try to do what we do in cooperation and synchronization with others.
I mentioned in my recent helping the homeless post two things I would be looking at this week. The first is about taking on more accommodation to house homeless folk and the second is to provide a day centre or similar where they can go, especially with the view of providing meaningful activity. I did manage to speak with some of those with an interest in carrying out each of these projects. I am conscious that in following up such ideas how important it is to recognize the work of other agencies already doing something similar to help, the need to find and work with sympathetic landlords and the need to work with council members and officers to find a way around the current lack of suitable housing.
While there is some way to go to further realise these and other ideas, I can see progress being made as well as the needs. I applaud the ongoing work of organizations, many associated with SHAN, talking of which it will hold its next meeting on 8th July when some of these matters can be further discussed.