A blog from the CEO, Trevor Pickup.
As the Chief Executive one of my tasks is sometimes to be part of an interview panel when we are recruiting. When we interview candidates for a job in one of our housing projects, one of the interview questions we normally ask is why to do you think people become homeless.
We expect the successful candidates to mention drugs, alcohol and mental health as the underlying issues, alongside relationship breakdown. Some of the better candidates might also mention people leaving prison without accommodation as being at risk of sleeping rough.
This general description is backed up by the personal histories of many who we help. When residents arrive in our housing projects we take a brief history of their background and substance misuse or mental health issues often play a big part of the narrative of complex and damaged lives. We also are aware that for a number of people, these are complex and long term issues, and these people may require support and assistance over a long term period.
One of the phrases often used is that “we are all just one payday away from being homeless”.
This conveys some of the risk of not being able to pay rent and the risk of ending up on the street. However, for many people this is not the situation. If I lost my job unexpectedly, I have a number of options, such as living off my wife, building up debt on my credit card and living off some savings. But I would also be able to rely on friends, reasonable job prospects and a good CV. Perhaps most significantly, I have good mental health and I am not struggling with a substance misuse issue, trying to find work with a recent criminal conviction or poor literacy or numeracy after a disrupted childhood upset my schooling.
So the role of the Society of St James must be to provide support and housing but also to be part of a pathway. Sometimes called the “Recovery Journey”, individuals will need to have the opportunity to address their basic needs such as getting regular meals, getting clean and having some clothes to wear. Then come medium term challenges such as getting involved in a treatment program or learning to live with an ongoing mental health issue.
Access to accommodation is a problem for people at all stages of their recovery journey. The provision of emergency accommodation such as hostels or winter beds are crucial to get people off the streets but the provision of longer term accommodation is also essential. People need to be able to move out of hostels and into more independent accommodation, such as a room in a shared house, a bedsit or a flat.
So as well as emergency accommodation, we have been developing more permanent housing. Over the last 2 years we have purchased 14 properties. When they are all refurbished these will create an additional 78 units of accommodation in Southampton, Portsmouth and Aldershot at a cost of £5.6 million. This has been financed by a mixture of grants from Homes England, mortgages and donations we have received. This will represent a 20% increase in the amount of accommodation we own.
Our county is facing a housing crisis which may take a number of years to resolve. SSJ is doing its bit to increase the housing options for our service users and hopefully increases their chances of success in their recovery journeys.
We’ve announced our 2019 Sleep Out and are looking for teams and individuals to take part! The event takes place on November 15th, in Victoria Park, Portsmouth.