This meeting was our opportunity to be updated on this important issue since our January 2019 network meeting. The pandemic has had far reaching consequences for us all but one good outcome is that funds were made available by central government to enable the council and local organisations to work together to get rough sleepers off the streets and into accommodation.
Karen Shaw, Head of LBR Housing Needs gave a very informative presentation including a powerpoint (click here to view) illustrating the tremendous achievement of supporting a total of 389 rough sleepers in Redbridge between March 2020 and December 2021. It was so good to hear that 16 of the 389 have been reconciled with family and that 8 have been assisted into supported housing options with 26 reconnected to other boroughs or internationally This reflects the huge effort made locally but a major challenge remains that some have no recourse to public funds which presents legal and financial challenges, the council is lobbying Parliament on this matter. The Rough Sleeper Initiative funding is due to end in April so there is a pressing need to move on those who do have recourse to public funds (16 persons as at December 2021) as soon as possible. The council purchased Ryedale Court (a former care home) several years ago and this has been developed and used for housing – phase 1 of the development provides 18 high needs supported studio flats and the rest of the building has been used as emergency accommodation but phase 2 of the development will provide 10 medium needs supported flats. Also 10 homes have been purchased for low or floating support needs. Apart from the needs of rough sleepers it was daunting to learn that there are currently 7,500 persons on the council’s housing register with 2,700 housed in temporary accommodation and only 226 homes became available last year from council housing or housing associations.
Our next speaker was Keegan Rodriguez, Manager of Malachi Place. Operation Malachi was only in the planning stages in January 2019 and so it was good to hear that it is now fully operational accommodating formerly homeless persons in the 42 self contained flats in the temporary container pop-up hostel in Chadwick Road on land leased from the council. It is a joint venture with the council and has received support from many faith communities and local organisations. One third of those accommodated are EU nationals who have been supported to obtain settled status. The Salvation Army had previously run an emergency winter night shelter in its hall which being dormitory style accommodation would not have been covid compliant so the provision of self contained flats was very timely during the pandemic. The Salvation Army provides specialist 24 hour support to help them deal with the many issues that may have led them to sleeping on the streets including addiction, trauma, domestic violence and poor mental health. Referrals of people who have connections to Redbridge and have been sleeping rough for 6/7 years are accepted. Some places are reserved for those without recourse to public funds. Residents are supported as is appropriate for their personal circumstances to get into employment enabling self-sufficiency / reconnect to country of origin / gain leave to remain / naturalisation, and become eligible for support in mainstream service. Now covid restrictions are easing there is the opportunity for residents to socialise in part of the building.
Sonia Lynch, Manager of the Welcome Centre then spoke to update us on how the Project has adapted and functioned during the pandemic by summarising in three words – Critical, Productive and Hope. The last two years had been critical and it had been so encouraging to have got everyone off the streets and this had been the best outcome of the pandemic. The Centre had been productive working in partnership with the council’s rough sleeper lead Adam, Malachi Place and SHP. This joint working has generated hope for those who had been living on the streets. The public had responded by donating clothing, goods and food and during lockdown the Project had delivered food to the two main hostels and Bed and Breakfast accommodation where people were housed as well as providing food parcels to low wage households. The input of the rough sleeping mental health team had been invaluable and transformed lives and some Eastern European persons had been supported to fulfil their wish to be repatriated to their country of origin.
Our final speaker was Mark Kent, Operations Director of Local Space, a housing association working across 8 London boroughs and parts of Essex providing safe quality homes for those in need including key workers and formerly homeless persons. Mark was interviewed by the Chair and asked to explain what a housing association is and the term “social housing”. Mark explained that housing associations date back to the 1860s due to the work of Octavia Hill who began purchasing properties and renting them out with the expectation of a 5% return instead of the normal 12% so buildings could be kept in good repair and she could invest in community. This was so successful it rapidly expanded with more investors. The government started legislating and in the 1870s started slum clearance. Local councils built many homes in the 1930s and this continued until the 1960s but then the housing market soared in price and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sold off many council homes at a discount to tenants. Council housing provided low rents and no end date for tenancies plus supported services so housing associations flourished in the 1980s. The term social housing can include emergency accommodation, temporary accommodation. lifetime tenancies, intermediate rent (discounted by up to 20%) and shared ownership. It was not designed to be just for the poor but increasingly it is associated with poverty. Living in poverty can bring about poor behaviour which is often publicised in the media and thus attract stigma. People end up in social housing as there are long waiting lists for council housing in London with an 65% increase since 2011 of people living in temporary accommodation (42,290 in October 2021) and councils do not have the funding to meet the need. Mark was asked to name his favourite residential scheme and answered without hesitation that it is East Village at Stratford. Mark had been Head of Operations of Trialthon Homes in 2012 and oversaw the decommissioning of the London Olympics Athletes village to convert to individual homes. This was properly funded enabling landscaping including water features and reasonable rents with good local facilities. When asked what was the most valuable lesson he had learnt in his housing career Mark said it was how important it is to LISTEN to people to understand their issues (we have two ears but only one mouth) as they may be vulnerable and unhappy with mixed needs so it is vital to understand – this gives them psychological oxygen enabling them to breathe freely and express themselves. As a practising Christian Mark said working in housing matched up well to his personal values of compassion, understanding and support providing affordable housing to the those who could not afford it. Values which are common to all faiths.
Redbridge Faith Forum would like to thank all speakers who gave their time to share their experiences with us.