MPs visit centre bringing transformation to people experiencing homelessness in Sheffield

published on 5 Feb 2018

Shadow Policing Minister Louise Haigh MP (Sheffield Heeley) and Paul Blomfield MP (Sheffield Central) visited The Salvation Army’s Charter Row Lifehouse on Friday (2 February 2018) and heard how worrying government plans to change the way supported housing is funded could make it more difficult for the Church and charity to continue helping people who are experiencing homelessness.

The MPs met with staff and residents at the Lifehouse to see for themselves how vulnerable men (aged 18 years old and above) are currently receiving tailored support to overcome the obstacles in their lives that led to their homelessness.

Service Manager Andy Parkinson said: “It’s important to us that our residents are the driving force for transformation – whether that’s in their own personal journey or in how we run the Lifehouse and its programme. When people walk through our doors for the first time, they have come from a variety of experiences – from rough sleeping to sofa-surfing. However, what we want them to find from that first moment is that we see them for who they are, not for the labels they’ve attached to themselves or have had prescribed by others. We want to show that we see their true value and worth, and encourage them to see it as well.”

Shadow Policing Minster Louise Haigh MP said: “The Salvation Army provides vital support services in Sheffield, helping get people back on their feet and doing excellent work in preventing them from having to sleep on the streets and the associated antisocial responses people face when left vulnerable in the open air. It's worrying to see how the planned changes the Government is proposing to the current funding system for supported housing would see the funding for sites like this become more precarious, and I’ll keep challenging them on their proposals.”

At present, residents are guaranteed to receive the help they need to meet their full rental costs. This offers a vital foundation from which they can begin to rebuild their lives after periods of significant instability. It also ensures that The Salvation Army is able meet the additional costs required to provide accommodation to vulnerable people, which is both safe and effective.

The Salvation Army has cautioned the Government on its proposals for the future funding of supported housing. If the reform is implemented as planned, funding – which is guaranteed for residents like those in Charter Row - could become discretionary. As a result, funding is likely to become less secure, threatening the future sustainability of our Lifehouses. Ultimately, this lack of stability will make it much harder to provide our residents with secure accommodation and the right kind of support.

Charter Row Lifehouse accommodates up to 55 men in en-suite, self-catered accommodation, but provides much more than a bed for the night for people who are without a home.

Tailored support is available as individuals find the help they need to overcome the challenges in their lives. The centre has a strong focus on resident engagement; encouraging people to be involved in creating their personalised support plan and setting goals towards resettlement into their own property or to facilitate a move to more appropriate provision.

Residents are encouraged during their stay to take part in meaningful activities – from tasks that will increase their chances of finding sustainable employment and maintain future tenancies on leaving the Lifehouse, to social programmes to break through isolation, nurture self-esteem and confidence.

Andy said: “While their stay with us is transitional, we want residents to feel empowered to make decisions, feel stronger and better about themselves and also to have a belief that, when leaving the Lifehouse, they will be equipped and confident in dealing with what life throws at them.”

Additional services at the centre include access to a community allotment, which promotes healthy eating, the benefits of exercise and teaches useful horticultural skills, as well as walking groups and a football team. In January, work commenced on a former Salvation Army church building, which will be re-used as a training centre for residents, offering a five-day-a-week skills-based programme.

Richard, 53, has been well-known to services in the city centre for many years and was referred to Charter Row’s High Needs Service in September 2017 after another bout of rough sleeping. He was alcohol dependent, drinking 18 cans of lager a day, which left him unable to function and with associated health issues.

At the start of 2018, Richard moved out of the service and into his own accommodation, having experienced an incredible transformation, supported by The Salvation Army and a number of agencies in Sheffield, working together to support Richard in moving forwards in his life. Through making a number of positive decisions to engage with health and alcohol support services as well as the Charter Row team, Richard has reduced his drinking to the point where he is coping on two alcohol-free ‘stubbies’ a day. He has also been discharged from the local alcohol service who are no longer concerned about his alcohol intake. Richard’s health has improved significantly without alcohol impacting his life.

Richard has engaged with the community allotment project and participated in a number of walks, transforming from a withdrawn, confused person who was constantly under the influence of alcohol to someone who is recovering their health and fitness, is sociable and who is articulating his hopes and dreams for the future once again.

Richard told the MPs: “One more winter on the street would’ve killed me. I was drinking 18 cans a day and when I moved into The Salvation Army I got down to two alcohol-free stubbies a day.

“I don’t like gardening but got involved in the allotment project because my specialist support workers encouraged me. It kept my mind occupied. I keep in touch with Mark, one of my support workers. If I tell him I can’t do something, he tells me ‘Have a cup of tea, take a deep breath, you can do this.’

“The Salvation Army staff were my backbone. I used to keep them on their toes. I’m living in my own place now and decorating it all myself – most of time is taken up with painting but I’d like to come back and volunteer. I’ve been told to come back if ever I need support or a cup of tea. The staff are like my family.”

Assistant Regional Homelessness Services Manager (North-East Region) Major Gillian Coates said: “Today we’ve been able to demonstrate to Louise and Paul the added value that services such as Charter Row provides to people when they are at their most vulnerable. We have also raised with them the uncertainties services such as ours face when it comes to the future sustainability of supported housing funding.

“The Salvation Army is strongly committed to supporting current and future residents and we will do everything we can to continue providing the support that we know people want and need. However, if the Government’s current proposal is introduced as is, then our residents and services will be exposed to increasing levels of risk and uncertainty.

“We’re seeking a solution which offers vulnerable homeless residents and their communities the strongest possible guarantee that local services will remain operational and accessible under the new system.”