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House to Home
My idea is to establish a social enterprise/charity project that works with large businesses to donate either furnishings, or money to purchase furnishings, and for the project to employ a small number of handymen (eventually, to include those who have been mentored through the project itself).
DETAILS:Former rough sleepers find it difficult to access the resources they need to furnish their new homes when they are helped, often for the first time, into independent accommodation. Local authority cuts and squeezed budgets for charities mean that, whilst clinical support services for issues such as addiction, or mental and physical health, are available to many, insufficient resources are available to people to make their accommodation liveable and homely. This can ultimately lead to tenancy failure, is deleterious for mental health and can lead to friction with housing providers from an early stage in the tenancy. Individuals can get into debt at a moment in their lives that should be exciting and a reason for optimism, but in reality can often compound already fragile confidence and mental health. Housing providers such as Housing Associations increasingly let their properties with the bare minimum of internal furnishings - it is far from unknown for properties to be let without carpets and requiring internal decoration, for which paint vouchers will be issued.
Charities sometimes have small budgets which they can use for essential items, but they will either have to spend precious time searching for second hand items, or purchase on the open market, achieving poor value for money. Installation is either done by untrained support workers, or has to be purchased on the open market. My idea is to establish a social enterprise/charity project that works with large businesses to donate either furnishings, or money to purchase furnishings, and for the project to employ a small number of handymen (eventually, to include those who have been mentored through the project itself).
The project will charge a small amount per client to the referral or support agency, or housing provider (current average spend for agencies such as Housing First is around £250 per client), for which they will receive excellent quality furnishings, professionally installed. The project will work to train / mentor recipients of the service in basic installation/handyman skills, so that they can develop work experience through the project. This will not only be beneficial to the individuals, but will open up additional grant funding streams around returns to employment, and will also enable the project ultimately to offer a commercial service - basic handyman tasks completed by people with lived experience of homelessness. I have experience in this line of work and of this as an issue that needs addressing. For several years I managed the St Mungo's SIB team, whose remit was to move rough sleepers through housing pathways and towards independence. I myself had to help clients struggling to find the resources to pay their bills and buy food, let alone purchase expensive items of furniture. The result was often people living in their new flats as if they were still homeless for several weeks - sleeping in sleeping bags on the carpet, with newspaper over the windows. Months and years of work to get people to accept offers of accommodation was put under immediate threat by such a situation. I have undertaken research with a range of other similar support agencies and housing providers who all echo this experience. I recently worked as a consultant on a project to evaluate the philanthropic sector in London.
One of the findings of that piece of work was that there is a great desire in the corporate world to find a meaningful way to engage with charities, particularly those that work with homeless and vulnerable people. This project offers the potential to engage with a range of corporate partners in an area in which they can offer resources and expertise that will make a contribution towards reducing the number of people that fall back out on to the streets. The project also offers the scope for a fundraising campaign - appeals to the public are often focused on helping people on the streets. This project would allow people to contribute on a more preventative level - helping people sustain their new tenancies and stopping them feeling like they need to return to the streets.
The project would be measurable in outcomes and outputs - we would be able to use CHAIN data to monitor the effect that it had on numbers returning to the street, either to sleep or in search of community. Mental health outcomes would be measurable using the Warwick Edinburgh Wellbeing scale. Employment levels would be measurable, once the project's mentoring scheme is up and running, and a control group could be used as a comparison.
I feel that this project has potential to be transformative and assist existing services, allowing them to focus on the very important clinical support that they are the experts in providing. It also offers a way to increase work experience and employment levels for a group that traditionally finds it very difficult to access such opportunities. It could help reduce the numbers of people with a long history of homelessness who return to the streets - for reasons either directly or indirectly linked to the quality of their new accommodation.
At this early stage I need start-up funding to enable the concept to be tested with a small, targeted group of clients. If the concept can be proved, I will be able to develop the project into a sustainable one using a mixed funding model, as outlined above. I have a great deal of experience in the rough sleeping sector, but need to access support in how to engage with corporate partners to develop their support for the project.