Life’s complicated and none of us know what’s around the corner. But we do know that it’s harder for people with fewer resources (less money, less security) to cope with difficult events. We also know that the biggest determining factor in homelessness is childhood poverty. In other words, people who grew up poor are far more likely to experience homelessness. And homelessness marginalises people, makes it hard for them to have control of their lives and affects health and well-being.
That’s why services such as private rented access schemes are so important: sometimes people just need some practical support to gain a new home. But some people need more than that; they need more help, someone alongside them as they try to deal with the complexities of modern life, someone to advocate for them and maybe motivate them at times, too.
The concept of ‘housing support’ is based around the belief that providing individual support to people who are marginalised and / or vulnerable to homelessness can ultimately enable them to live independently; and that living independently is the goal we want for as many people as possible. Support features all of those things and more: advocacy, motivational work, and gaining access to other services and options. And it fully accepts that life isn’t the same for everyone, isn’t fair, and that society should provide help at times to enable people to have opportunities.
In the UK there have been various schemes to provide support to help vulnerable people, the most significant being the Supporting People programme* that started in the early 2000s. The essence of that included:
So this kind of support is more than just help to keep or gain housing. It includes an understanding that housing is vital for people to be safe and well; and also that being safe and well is vital for people living independently. Therefore the support tends to be provided by staff members working one to one with the person (or family), in their own home where possible, looking not just at how they keep their home (income, budgeting, responsibilities and rights) but how they spend their time, what they aspire to, their health and their social links.
People may describe this support as holistic, as being part of a social inclusion agenda: that’s all good. But most of all, it’s based around what the person needs and wants, with a foundation in pragmatism and reality. That’s why it works.
But it’s also exactly the kind of service that gets cut (and has been) when money’s tight. That’s a shame. Support of this sort isn’t an add-on or a luxury: it’s a wise and ethical investment in citizens, giving people a fairer chance and also often preventing people from needing other, more expensive interventions from society.
* = A 2009 House of Commons report on the Supporting People programme noted:
The programme has been instrumental in supporting the needs of some of most vulnerable and socially excluded members of society and delivers savings to the Exchequer of £3.4 billion for a £1.6 billion investment per annum. The quality of partnership working under the regime—which has led to the creation of many innovative and person-centred services—is widely recognised, and is regarded as an excellent blueprint for future partnership working in many areas of local service delivery.