Homeless cleared from London streets: But many face long stays in waiting areas

David Goddard spent four weeks sleeping on the floor at one of  the three No Second Night Out hubs in London. The target length of stay is 72 hours.
David Goddard spent four weeks sleeping on the floor at one of the three No Second Night Out hubs in London. The target length of stay is 72 hours.
A few weeks ago I wrote about David Goddard, a young homeless man who was released from prison and spent a number of weeks in accommodation known as the hub in Lewisham, South East London. The hub is a place which takes in new rough sleepers, and is run by an organisation called No Second Night Out (NSNO). NSNO was set up in 2011 by Mayor of London Boris Johnson as part of an agenda to end rough sleeping in London by 2012. The Greater London Authority (GLA) pays for the stays. The idea is to stop the homeless spending a second night on the street and to prevent them becoming entrenched there. There are two other NSNO hubs in London providing emergency spaces for the homeless – in Islington and Shepherd’s Bush. NSNO describes these places as “an A&E for the homeless – a safe space”, and as a “staging area”.

David told me that in the past he had an issue with heroin addiction and had been forced to steal to survive. He got into trouble with the police and ended up in prison because of this. He  said a few things about his NSNO hub accommodation that concerned me. He described a room containing about 25 people of both sexes, with people sleeping on the floor and chairs. He also said people as young as 16 or 17 had been there, and that he had been staying there for six weeks.

I needed to check all this out, because of the safeguarding issues potentially raised. To do this I spoke to Deputy Director of NSNO Dan Olney, who talked me through the project. He said: “NSNO is an emergency response to rough sleeping. Before we were around,  an outreach worker would have approached someone on the street. It didn’t provide for  that emergency need, and if they arranged to meet someone the next day it was difficult. Instead we have a hub rather than a hostel and the intended length of stay is 72 hours. The reality is there are cases where people stay there longer than that. It’s usually because we are trying to get an outcome via the local authority.”

When people overstay, “60 per cent of the time it’s because of a third-party – a mix of someone waiting for an appointment with the local authority, or for a response from a housing provider, or they’ve been assessed and are waiting for a housing vacancy”. NSNO “usually” expects the local authority to provide interim accommodation. “Quite often that depends on the client’s needs. A lot of our work is focused on trying to get people a service if they are entitled to it,” he added. David, he says, ended up in the unit for four weeks, rather than the six weeks he mentioned.

David told me that he was asked to leave after he got involved in a dispute with another person staying there. When I met him he had started squatting locally in an industrial unit.

Dan Olney said that if those taken into one of the three hubs had a link with another area (where they have spent three of the last five years), staff arrange to go with them to their “home” local authority and ask them to take on the case. But, “if they don’t meet the thresholds of priority need then there is guidance – but no legal obligation to meet their housing needs”. Of the 6,000 clients they’ve had since 2011, for the ones they recorded, 30 per cent had already approached their local authority for advice and assistance. For example, he told me that in the last quarter – January to March – 91 new rough sleepers had come to the borough of Westminster alone and had become clients of NSNO. But only two had a connection to Westminster. Many of them are EU nationals or from further afield.

So the aim is to do an assessment on each client within 72 hours and to then physically reconnect them to the place where they have a “home connection”. He says that NSNO “literally reconnects people worldwide, and it’s not just (giving them) a ticket – it’s working with the Home Office towards making them an offer”. What then about duty of care for the many clients who can’t be moved on within this time frame? “Security and safety is a big thing for us. We’re staffed 24 hours a day and we have to be very strict with people. If someone is presenting as a risk to people, then we give them a warning. If they’re demonstrating threatening behaviour or if someone is particularly vulnerable to a particular client group we would put them into a different part of the service.”

While the Greater London Authority pays for the stays having awarded the NSNO project a two-year contract, the project is actually run by St Mungo’s Broadway, which describes itself on its website as “a charity, a limited company and a housing association”. It says there that its aim is “helping people recover from the issues that create homelessness”. St Mungo’s Broadway employs the NSNO staff.

NSNO, said Dan, “manages safeguarding ourselves internally, and if we had a concern we would flag it up ourselves and contact the duty officer at local safeguarding services”. As well as a “risk management strategy for everyone in the hub, we have individual risk assessments”. He said the minimum age for someone staying in the hub is 18. “If they are 16 or 17 years old they would go straight to the local authority.”The hubs in Islington and Shepherd’s Bush have the option of separate accommodation for women. Dan said the hub in Lewisham is the staging post for people with lower needs. He added: “For people who have got higher needs we try to press the local authority to get them somewhere away from the hub. David would not have necessarily been acceptable for that, and a lot of time this is the reason for a long stay.”

He described NSNO as a project that is “rapid” at getting people off the streets, “but the systems that are in place around us are not always conducive to us meeting our targets”. Quite often, there’s a dispute with the local authority about whether it should be taking on a client. “It comes down to the person (from the local authority) who had done the assessment. We may think a person has a priority need, but the local authority assessment comes to a different conclusion.” The project is currently drawing up protocols with all local authorities in London, with the aim of ensuring the 72-hour time for dealing with clients is met. “The ethos is about trying to influence external partners to change the way they work to expedite the process to get people off the street,” said Dan. Some local authorities, in his view, are completely engaged with the process. Others, “particularly outer London boroughs – say we’re not having them back”.

Kevin sanctioned on Work Programme and now begging for food

Kevin sanctioned on Work Programme and now begging for food
Kevin Jobbins, who's living on £7 a fortnight for food, following a benefit sanction
Kevin Jobbins, who’s living on £7 a fortnight for food, following a benefit sanction

How does it feel to be “living” on a budget for food of £3.50 a week? Kevin Jobbins is doing exactly that, but the more you think about it, the less appropriate the concept of  existence or survival seems in this context. To survive  conjures up images of Everest expeditions  – involving a set of risks voluntarily  endured  by explorers who’ve personally opted to challenge their own physical and emotional limitations.

Kevin, on the other hand, came into the Greenwich Foodbank   because  he’s  not  surviving. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has failed to reinstate his benefits following a sanction in April. Kevin is 39, and is  receiving employment and support allowance (ESA). He’s waiting to go into detox treatment for drug and alcohol issues and is also on the waiting list for surgery on his feet for problems  linked to his time as a homeless person. Despite his multiple health issues, he was registered with a Seetec job club.

He was sanctioned for missing an appointment with Seetec. He says he had no option,  as he had to look after his two year old son that day. Since April his benefit rate has plunged from £202 a fortnight to £47.  He says that Seetec have told him the sanction has been lifted, but that the job centre in Woolwich says it hasn’t. His housing benefit was stopped as a result, but has now been restarted. But out of the £47 he has to pay £9 for council tax, £10 as a contribution to rent, £10 for electricity and £10 for gas. So that leaves about £3.50 for food.

The result? “I’m begging for food or nicking stuff. I got caught in Tesco. I’m also paying £10 a fortnight in court fines. This is the first time I’ve had to use a food bank. I’m angry. I don’t think I should have to beg for food.  I should have my money reinstated.  I am literally living hand to mouth.” Kevin, who’s on pain medication, adds: ‘”If I can’t nick a sandwich from Greggs I try to beg a couple of pot noodles.”

Should Kevin have been referred to the Work Programme given the extent of his health and addiction problems, and what help has it been to him? The sanction this ill man had imposed on him for not turning up to an appointment has done nothing other than to push his life further into chaos and undoubtedly towards worse health.

For whose benefit? Mike Sivier at Vox Political has flagged up how much money has been paid to Work Programme providers from when the scheme began until March 31 this year. His post links to  alittleecon, who highlights that since the programme began, 39% of  the money paid to providers – who are mainly private sector organisations – has come from the “attachment fee”. The DWP document publishing the Work Programme costs is here.  For the first year of the programme, the attachment fee was £400, the second year it was £300 and for last year £200. From July, the fee will no longer be paid.

To quote from the alittleecon post: “To date then, on this ‘paid by results programme’, the Government has paid providers £538m (out of a total of £1.372bn) just for taking people on their books and before they have helped a single person into work.” With this payment for doing nothing now ended, will we see Work Programme providers start to walk away?” Alittleecon estimates that around 1.72 million people have been attached to the Work Programme since it began, and the DWP is saying that over the same period there have been 296,000 job outcomes,  “so that means only about 17% (1 in 7) have found work lasting at least six months – not a great return for a spend of £1.4bn, particularly when you think that a lot of these people would have found work anyway”.

This system has let Kevin down badly. Kevin has been told to inform that food bank manager here if the job centre fails to confirm early this week that his benefit has been reinstated. I’ll update on this. Are more and more individuals ending up like him – vulnerable sick people sanctioned while on the Work Programme and effectively left to starve and steal to stay alive – begging on the streets for pot noodles?

Thanks to Kevin and the many people who use the food bank who’ve decided to speak to me.

 

 

The homeless addict given emergency housing – above a pub: Paul’s story

The homeless addict given emergency housing – above a pub: Paul’s story
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Paul Foster: Given emergency housing above a pub

I headed back to the impressive Jerico Road project in Catford, South-East London last night. This church-based organisation offers very practical support to vulnerable adults – most of whom come to the project initially as rough sleepers. I got the chance to talk to Paul Foster, who very kindly shared his experiences recently. As he spoke to me, I realised that I’m starting to hear the same narrative, repeated by a number of vulnerable ex-offenders.

Paul, aged 34, is bipolar and describes himself as a recovering crack and heroin addict. He’s an intelligent man, who takes a keen interest in politics. What he can’t comprehend is why people are living on the streets at all. ‘Why are so many people starving and homeless? The money is there, but it’s just not directed at the right people.’

He was released from prison five months ago, at the end of a 10 month sentence for the £80 theft of washing machine liquid. This was just the latest in a long line of about 20 drug-related thefts. ‘Yes, I’m a repeat offender. The system doesn’t help drug addicts any more. Every time I go in front of a judge I get a custodial sentence.’ While in prison, he said he ‘built some bridges’ with his father. On leaving prison, he moved in with him – his mother having died a few years ago. But Paul became homeless when his father asked him to leave a month ago.

Paul then slept on the train from Victoria to Penge East for four days, before approaching a housing association for help in the London Borough of Bromley where he grew up. Instead of finding him somewhere to live in his borough, they placed him in an emergency hostel on the Old Kent Road – miles away and  in an entirely different borough. This has left him stranded in one-roomed hostel accommodation above a pub. Paul’s comment on the suitability of the location for a person with an addictive personality sums it up succinctly enough for me: ‘If you’re a recovering crack and heroin addict you’re  f***** .’ He’s also far from all the people who were helping him, including his mental health team, who knew him well. The only ‘support’ on hand, according to Paul, is a person who gets people their cereal in the mornings.

This 26-room unit is, says Paul, being used as accommodation for a number of African families – one family to a room. ‘Kids, mum and all – in the same room with one bed.’

His account echoes the picture given to me a few weeks ago here at the Jerico Road project by David Goddard, a 24-year-old with drug issues who was homeless and stole for food and drugs. He was arrested 10 times as he moved round the country – mostly for shoplifting food. He was released from prison earlier this year with no support in place. He ended up in a different hostel to Paul in South-East London, but was asked to leave that unit and has ended up squatting. The conditions he described at that hostel – men. women and young people sleeping in one communal room – sounded risky to say the least and I’m checking out the issues raised.

Paul has been in his emergency hostel for just under a week. He says the next step will be to see what the Bromley-based housing association will offer him next. Will it enable him to access support from his GP and  the mental health team in his home borough  – the people best placed to offer him proper help? I wish I could be more optimistic about his prospects, and I hope to post an update on this. Many thanks to Paul for speaking out.