November 20, 2023
By Jude McCaffrey
Homelessness and rough sleeping are increasing across the country. The causes of rough sleeping are complex, almost always linked to destitution and trauma, and by no means a lifestyle choice. These issues are further compounded when people have no recourse to public funds.
Oxfordshire Homeless Movement, seeking to fill a critical gap in provision, pulled together partner organisations Aspire, Connection Support and Asylum Welcome and, working with Soha Housing, a project was developed to offer housing at a peppercorn rent to adults experiencing homelessness who are prevented from working or claiming benefits.
Soha, as a registered housing provider, cannot grant tenancies directly to people unable to claim UK benefits. To support the project with low-cost housing, Soha talked to our colleagues at Broadland Housing in Norfolk. We adapted their successful model and leased five homes to Aspire, a homelessness charity, on a peppercorn rent.
These five homes provided 12 bedspaces to adults with no recourse to public funds. The project has supported 10 people in gaining settled status and to move onto social rent tenancies and create capacity for incoming people affected by homelessness.
The security of a home enables the residents to work with Asylum Welcome and gain settled UK status. This then allows the residents to work or claim benefits. In addition to providing financial assistance, the partnership can also provide other forms of support. Asylum Welcome lead on support with immigration status and gaining settled status, while Connection and Aspire offer day to day tenancy support and skills for managing a home, as well as help in getting back to work.
Here is what one of the residents says:
‘In the last house where I was there were so many people living there, you know, it’s a student accommodation building. It was overcrowded. Here is much better – it's a house, and I have two other friends here. We have known each other for a long time, so there’s freedom, good communication with the people you live with. The place is in a quiet neighbourhood as well. Inside, the kitchen, the toilet – everything is better. Everything is good here. The first day we opened the door to this house, I think it was a sunny day. Nice weather, and I felt nice coming here.
‘In a normal week, I meet with my friends. Because there are so many people from my country. Some older, some younger. You know, when you meet someone from your country you have this connection. I met my friends through cricket, and also from college. We play football sometimes, we play cricket. Especially if the weather is nice. I'm good at cricket. We have a team, we play one or two matches a week, Saturday or Sunday. We play so it finishes in one and a half hours, same as football. The older people, they play [a] test match, which goes for five days. I would never play that – who's gonna waste five days?
‘I'm planning to stay here. I like Oxford very well and I know so many people here, and I’ve been in Oxford since I was younger. I like this place. I think in my life, this is the first place I feel is my home. Not even in my country. Because everything is good. When you come here, you find everything is different. You have so many things here. We don't have much there. You know, the facilities, the support you get, and that no one can force you to do anything here. You have a government, they help you. In our country it's not like this. If you have power, then, you know, you can do anything. Compared to where I come from, there is much difference.’
In joining this partnership, Soha also saw a crucial role in providing advocacy on behalf of people impacted by homelessness. For example, we talked to other housing associations about adopting policies that make it easier for homeless people to access housing and other resources.
By working with partnerships that provide support services to people experiencing homelessness, housing associations can help to ensure that individuals have a safe and stable place to live. This can help to improve the lives of people affected by homelessness and also help to reduce the social and personal costs associated with homelessness.
- Jude McCaffrey is Head of Housing at Soha Housing