How Housing First changed my life
This is a guest blog post from Chris, who is a Housing First resident in Liverpool.
My history with homelessness
To cut a long story short, I have experienced homelessness on several occasions through my adult life. This was down to a few reasons, partly because I had not really held my own tenancy until the passing of my mother and the lifestyle I was leading. I am a former Class A drug user and at various times had been involved with gangs and groups associated with this.
My most recent examples of homelessness came during times where I was trying to focus on recovery. I obtained my own flat but did not really have the skills to maintain this or how to seek help when it was needed.
On the most recent occasion, I attempted to work with my then Housing Association having had my benefits interrupted - which caused me to fall in arrears. I was getting letters explaining I was to be evicted. I sought support from the Housing Association but they sent me to a support service that worked with me a little bit, but they told me it had been fixed and I never really saw them again. Partly due to me missing appointments due to my lifestyle but also because there was never real meaningful support.
The letters continued to be sent and it stated I was going to be evicted. I did not have the confidence or know what to do. I thought I had been evicted, I left the property and again began to sleep rough for several months in the lead up to Covid. I was found by an outreach team who placed me in temporary accommodation which was helpful and that was when I was referred to Housing First.
Referral to Housing First
Whilst I was nervous about potentially going to a hostel, I was also worried about my long-term plans as I knew what the cycle was. Housing First appealed to me because they explained that they would accommodate me in a home and would help me manage this and my general wellbeing as well – without condition, led by me and for as long as I needed. Whether doing well or doing bad they would actively come to see me. They would not disappear until I felt ready. This was very different to support services in the past who would tell me things were fixed, only for issues to go wrong again and there would be no follow up or I was closed on their books for not seeing them on their schedule. It felt like things had to be in crisis to get help instead of keeping me away from crisis in the first place.
Within three months of being with Housing First I was in my own tenancy. I was given the choice of the areas I wanted to live that suited me. I opted to move out of the area I had lived previously as I no longer felt safe there due to my past associations. I moved from Knowsley council area to Liverpool council area with my first viewing of a tenancy being suitable. I had wanted to do this in the past but having no connection in Liverpool I was not allowed and so would be housed in places I was still at risk or unable to progress with my recovery. Having this choice gave me a proper opportunity not just to find a home but one that was productive to recovery and other aspects of moving my life forward.
Moving into my own home
The move into a new home was quick and like anything, quite stressful. However, this was managed really well by Dan and his team who stepped up face to face contact during this first few weeks of this intense time and who helped me get access to furniture from local funds, but also used my personal budget to buy things to make it feel like a home. This has helped me feel comfortable in the home and given me great pride. I have also purchased my own bits of furniture along the way.
Ongoing support and training
Since I’ve become more settled in my home and my recovery is going really well, I have been able to focus on broader issues. For the first time in my life I have taken part in IT lessons with help from the DWP and now manage my own journal on my own laptop which Housing First supported me to purchase. I use this to access books and information online and manage bills too. This is the first time I’ve ever owned or used a computer. This has helped me grow in confidence to manage things in a way I never have and has proven to myself I always had skills, they just needed unlocking. I am now beginning to engage with the community and have registered to the local library and I am using spaces I thought were not open to me based on my own image of my past self.
However, I recently fell into arrears due to a mix up with my universal credit calculation. I was sent a letter explaining I was in arrears and I panicked as this is how problems began in the past. What was great was this time I could call Dan immediately and he could help me manage this and within one call to the Housing Association it was sorted, and we were back on track. In the past I may have panicked and something as simple as that could have seen me evicted, back on the street and vulnerable to drug use again.
Housing First have also been good because we have all worked together with other agencies such as We Are With You who support me with my drug recovery, and with thanks to Housing first they have agreed to see me at a different centre due to my risks of attending the usual office they would have expected me to attend. Dan has also been present to help me with calling bills, DWP and other agencies and we’ve all linked together really well from day one. I am at a stage now where I am managing this more independently but it’s good to know Dan is always there when I need him.
The perfect approach for me
This approach has been prefect for me. It has been about what I want and how I need it and when I need it. It has been suited to me and based on my goals and strengths. Not about me fitting into a box that works for others. I can be open about who I am to Housing First and they do not judge me for my past. They have seen what I am capable of and given me the opportunity to build on that.
I believe this is a service that works for its service users and not itself. I believe it can help people and change lives, as it has with me.
Housing First should be accessible to more people with the aim of challenging homelessness and the problems that persist after a roof is found. I can’t tell you everything about my story in 5 minutes but I just hope you can trust that it has changed my life in many ways and I hope you will consider doing that for more people in the future.
Thanks to Chris for sharing his story and being a part of our Home for All campaign, calling for the Government to urgently funding Housing First programmes in England in the upcoming Spending Review. Visit the Home for All campaign page to watch Chris's video, sign our open letter to the Chancellor and find out more about the campaign: www.crisis.org.uk/HomeforAll.
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