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Opening Doors to Permanent Homes for People in Northern Ireland

07 December 2016

Page 4 Photo 1 Ruth And Caroline 260X300

Ruth Kelly and Caroline Durham are preventing homelessness in Northern Ireland

A big part of our work at Simon Community NI is homelessness prevention. Research shows that experiencing homelessness, even for a night, is detrimental to a person’s well-being, mental health and future prospects. It is always preferable to help people avoid homelessness than to support them through it. 

With this in mind, we have partnered with the Housing Executive’s Housing Solution Department to improve the services available to people who are at risk of experiencing homelessness. Caroline Durham and Ruth Kelly are two Simon Community NI team members who are working alongside the NIHE Housing Solutions team as part of this project, as a HOME (Housing Solutions Made Easy) team, dedicated to people in need. 

Tell me about your background with Simon Community NI? 

Caroline: I completed a placement in Conway Court as part of my Social Work degree in 2007 and immediately knew I wanted to work in the homeless sector. I felt a real desire to work with individuals and families that were homeless or facing homelessness and so I applied for a Support Worker post when I finished my degree in 2011. I initially worked with young people aged 17-26 and really enjoyed the challenges that this brought. In 2013, I took on a Team Leader role managing an Accommodation Project on the Falls Road. I feel honoured to have worked with the clients that came through the doors of this Project. They have taught me humility, kindness and empathy, and I am passionate about using the qualities that they show daily, throughout the homelessness sector in Northern Ireland. Within my new role as a Floating Support Coordinator, I am fortunate to work with some of the leading charities and organisations including the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in order to maximise clients’ opportunities to move on positively, by providing creative solutions, creating organisational partnerships and building on existing relationships. 

Ruth: I joined Simon Community Northern Ireland in 2010 as an Accommodation and Community Support Worker after working with another Homeless Organisation in Belfast for over a year. Having built a career within Estate Agency, I worked daily with individuals and families that so often were experiencing difficulties forcing them to sell or move home. I soon realised that my motivation was focused more on helping with the causal issues, than selling the property. This brought about the desire to change career and move into the voluntary sector. I have always felt compassion for those experiencing homelessness and a strong desire to make a difference for those considered the most vulnerable in society. In 2012, I joined the team at 414 Falls Road as Team Leader. While I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of managing a project and supporting a team, I recognised that I wanted to return to working on a one-to-one basis with clients. I joined the Harm Reduction team in 2013, supporting clients struggling with substance misuse and addiction. Working with these clients made it clear that environmental issues within temporary accommodation seriously impacted their ability to reduce or abstain from substance misuse. When the position within Homeless Prevention became available, I was excited to take on a new challenge with the objective of moving clients to more appropriate accommodation and reducing the time spent living in temporary accommodation. 

How do you think this partnership with the Housing Executive will improve the lives of people experiencing homelessness? 

Our primary focus has always been to support people experiencing homelessness to be in a position where they can live independently and sustain their own tenancy. The insecurity and instability of living in temporary accommodation can have a detrimental effect on people – most notably, it impacts mental health, substance and alcohol misuse and self-confidence. This partnership gives us an opportunity to be able to influence policy and procedure and to play a role in transformational change within the sector for the benefit of people we support. We hope that this will improve the experience of anyone who is homeless or at risk of being made homeless. 

The Housing Executive and Simon Community Northern Ireland recognised the need for a joint team to ensure clients’ needs are met with regard to their housing options, and they are offered transparent and realistic advice in relation to their situation. The aim of the partnership is to reduce the time spent in temporary accommodation and increase the amount of successful and sustained tenancies. We hope to achieve this by empowering clients to make an informed decision about their housing options by providing them with honest and transparent information with both social housing and private sector housing in mind. 

What does your daily job role entail? 

Our days are varied as each day is built around the individual needs of clients. We spend two to three days a week in the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, working with the Housing Solutions Team and supporting joint clients with move on plans to ensure they are choosing the most viable and appropriate options. 

We hold weekly housing clinics in Simon Community NI Accommodation Projects, meeting with clients on a one-to-one basis to support them with any housing or move on queries, problems and concerns. We aim to provide up to date information in relation to their housing application, housing points and realistic housing options. 

We also meet with other accommodation providers and floating support organisations in a bid to create new and develop existing partnerships that will provide opportunities for clients to move on with support in place to help them sustain a successful tenancy. 

Can you give an example of someone you have helped through the partnership? 

James* presented at the Housing Executive to make a homeless application, and it was obvious to the team that a temporary hostel would not be suitable to his current needs. Instead, intensive work was done to secure a temporary tenancy within a Simon Community NI move-on flat to avoid the client being placed in a hostel environment. Joint work was then completed by both parties to ensure that the clients’ housing options were realistic and tangible. With the client’s agreement, their areas of choice were changed and an offer was received within two and half weeks. Rather than the client moving into temporary hostel accommodation – which would have impacted their mental health – they were supported in their own temporary tenancy and received realistic options that ensured a quick move-on. The client will be supported in their own tenancy by the Homeless Prevention Team for 8 weeks to ensure a smooth transition to independent living, and that their support needs are met by our floating support partners. 

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the person involved.