A man with short blond hair and dark glasses stands in front of a wall with a smile to the camera

Some rough sleepers have been rough sleeping for a long time and some are quite new to it. For many, their biggest concern is safety and being the victim of crime. Some are violently assaulted when rough sleeping. 

“Despite the lockdown we are still housing people!”

I’m a Tenancy Sustainment Officer for the Rapid Rehousing Pathway Project in Home Works.

We offer intensive support to accommodate people who are rough sleeping or at risk of homelessness. A rough sleeper might be someone who sleeps on the street, in a car, or in a bus shelter.

This project supports single people or couples over 18 who have low to medium support needs. We try and house them in the private rented sector whilst providing them with holistic support.

The project is funded by five local authorities in East Sussex – Hastings, Rother, Wealden, Eastbourne, and Lewes. I started this job in July 2019 and I am co-located in the Housing Options team for Wealden District Council. This means that my day-to-day colleagues are housing officers in the local authority.

I work with a maximum of 15 clients at a time. How much support I give varies from client to client depending on their needs. I give them as much or as little time they need to get things done, but provide a minimum of one support session a week.

Some rough sleepers have been rough sleeping for a long time and some are quite new to it. For many, their biggest concern is safety and being the victim of crime. Some are violently assaulted when rough sleeping.

Quite a lot of our clients assume that councils have a statutory duty to house them but unfortunately they don’t and a lot of our work involves educating them about that and what is available.

We work with them around any barriers they have to accessing private rented accommodation, for example substance or alcohol misuse and debt. Everyone’s barriers are different so we look individually at what’s stopping them, what has and hasn’t worked in the past, and what we could do differently.

A lot of clients have mental health challenges and part of our work is to get them support. If they are willing to engage with services we refer them to their GP, Health in Mind, or a drug and alcohol recovery service.

At the Rapid Rehousing Pathway Project, we look at debt and benefit entitlement and we facilitate access to council funds for loans so clients can pay the deposit and rent. Our focus is on clients being able to sustain their accommodation so we make sure they can pay their rent and get set up. We have an open door policy so they can come back to us after they’ve been housed if they need us.

We build relationships with the landlords and letting agents in the locality who are willing to support our clients. We put a lot of time and effort into building these relationships to get them on board with the project. They like the package we offer – the support we give to their tenants and their ability to come to us with any issues. It gives them a safety net when letting out their property.

I love my job! It is intense. We take a hand-holding approach to get clients accommodated due to the type of project this is. We still use a coaching model when working with clients but we can do a lot more for those who need more support.

This project is part of a national government initiative that has been adapted locally for East Sussex. It works really well, is really successful, and has managed to get a lot of homeless people housed. We’re taking on a lots more clients, getting amazing feedback from them, and building positive relationships with local authorities.

At the Rapid Rehousing Pathway Project we work with the Housing First service and interchange clients between us according to their needs. Housing First works with rough sleepers who have multiple complex needs and comprises a multidisciplinary team that includes a Mental Health Nurse, a Nurse, and Recovery Worker for example. If someone with high needs is referred to us, we will pass them to Housing First, and if one of their clients has become more stable, they can step down to us. It’s called a Step Up Step Down process and it works really well.

We provide a face-to-face outreach service and we continue to provide this during the coronavirus lockdown with local Housing First services. Outreach is weekly and we respond to and engage with people who we know are already rough sleeping to see how they’re doing and make sure they’re ok. Since the pandemic, we’ve had to take safety measures and have been provided with PPE and guidance around keeping a physical distance from people.

Right now, I’m working from home and I am supporting my case working clients over the phone. Some of them have found it difficult but they understand the risks involved and understand the need for the change. Despite the lockdown, some continue to rough sleep and if they haven’t got a mobile phone already I can get them one safely. I can also support them with setting up a bank account.

Despite the lockdown we are still housing people! We’re working with landlords and letting agents who are open and providing services, and we’re able to continue to work with clients in a safe way, taking precautions and social distancing. It’s been fantastic that we’re still able to support people during this time.

The Rapid Rehousing Pathway Project is provided by our Home Works service and works with rough sleepers to support them to find suitable accommodation with ongoing tenancy sustainment support. Referrals to the project are made by the Housing Options teams in participating local authorities.