A woman stands outside wearing a mask and gloves, looking at the camera

After years on the streets, some people need intense support, encouragement, and reassurance to stay where they have been housed.

“We managed to get most rough sleepers into temporary accommodation”

I’m a Tenancy Sustainment Officer for the Housing First service with the Rough Sleepers Initiative.

Housing First is a national housing and support approach, providing intensive, person-centred, and holistic support to homeless people with complex chronic health and social care needs. Eastbourne Borough Council has adapted this model to provide rough sleepers with tenancies and wrap-around support from a Multi-Disciplinary team.

The Multi-Disciplinary Team is made up of Housing Advisors, a Social Worker, a Drug and Alcohol Keyworker, a Community Psychiatric Nurse, a General Nurse, and Probation Officers. They are just about to expand the team to include Community Support Workers and a Psychologist and have recently introduced a GP service. There are four Housing First officers seconded to the Rough Sleepers Initiative.

Housing First supports entrenched rough sleepers with complex needs which might include substance misuse, mental health challenges, physical illness, and a history of being through the prison system.

There are three main aspects to the role. The first is providing the tenancy-related support to rough sleepers who have been housed in flats provided by Eastbourne Borough Council via the Housing First project.

The second is outreach work where we engage with rough sleepers and offer support and guidance with their housing, health and benefit needs. This includes referrals to other housing support projects such as the Rapid Rehousing Pathway Project and Home Works. If we identify they have complex support needs then they will remain supported by the Rough Sleepers Initiative.

Via outreach we have supported people aged 16 and over, the oldest person we have supported was an 80 year old who was sleeping on the seafront.

And the third is inreach support where we have drop-ins at the Salvation Army and The Matthew 25 Mission. Before the coronavirus pandemic we would spend time each week in these centres to engage with rough sleepers and offer support and arrange activities such as ‘The Healthy Breakfast’, a ‘Ladies Lunch’ where we have a manicurist and clothes available, pottery, cooking courses and quizzes. These are currently suspended due to Covid-19.

After years on the streets, some people need intense support, encouragement, and reassurance to stay where they have been housed. They find it hard to be indoors. They can miss their community as they often look out for each other, so to suddenly be living in what feels like a box can be very difficult and a lot of support is needed.

As Tenancy Sustainment Officers, we help them maintain their tenancy and ensure that their rent is paid and they are adhering to their tenancy agreement. We liaise with their landlord, encourage them to go to their health appointments, and help them with budgeting. For a lot of entrenched rough sleepers, budgeting is an issue because after decades on the streets suddenly having the responsibility to pay bills can be very daunting.

Because of their complex situations, some clients don’t always engage which means we have to be very reactive in the support we provide.

No day is ever the same. You don’t know what you’re going to be faced with. For example, I was recently due to do outreach work around Eastbourne but my day changed as I got out my car and instantly met a rough sleeper who couldn’t breathe – we needed to respond to that situation immediately. Myself and my colleague wore full PPE and took the client into the medical room at the Salvation Army where we called his GP. An ambulance was called on the advice of the doctor and he was sent to the hospital because he had a severe chest infection. After the intervention, we washed our hands and the clothes we were wearing as outlined by the Covid-19 health guidelines.

Having access to a Multi-Disciplinary Team is incredibly beneficial to the support we provide. If we see someone who needs specific specialist support we can call the team for advice or ask them to come and outreach with us. Once we have signed consent forms from the rough sleepers we’re able to liaise with each other and find out what we know about an individual so that we can give them the best support. Currently we meet as a team weekly via virtual team meetings to care plan for each individual.

Throughout the pandemic, outreach work has continued but we had to stop home visits, drop-ins, and activity work. Phone support had been challenging with our client group.

Lockdown meant that under Government guidelines we had to intensify outreach to get rough sleepers off the streets and housed into temporary accommodation. That was challenging as we had to engage with all rough sleepers and then liaise with Eastbourne Borough Council to ensure clients had the relevant risk assessments completed so they could be placed in appropriate accommodation. We managed to get most rough sleepers into temporary accommodation with only a few who refused.

The rough sleepers were mainly placed in hotels. A lot of support has gone in to supporting the rough sleepers in the hotel. We have needed to meet their needs for phones, radios, personal hygiene items, food, drinks, and bedding because they were being asked to stay in most of the day and many had very few items.

We recently started doing the early morning outreach from 5am to 7am to see who is bedded down to get an idea of the numbers of rough sleepers. Because Eastbourne is a seaside town, not all of those sleeping on the streets are local and some of our work involves reconnecting them with their local authority. This isn’t always possible though depending on the reasons why they left that area in the first place.

We’re provided with PPE equipment from Southdown and Eastbourne Borough Council and during our outreach work we go out with our masks, gloves and anti-bac gel and we have additional things like overalls and goggles if required.

Now that guidelines involving Covid-19 are being relaxed, we are working hard in making sure the rough sleepers currently in temporary accommodation are getting the right support so hopefully they won’t have to return to rough sleeping.

When I’m doing my admin, I work at home with my two kids, two dogs, and husband!  It has been absolutely fine and because I have been doing lots of outreach, it’s been a nice balance in terms of my well-being.

I find the Tenancy Sustainment Officer role challenging – it can be difficult when you first meet a rough sleeper and see how they’re living, especially as we can’t always offer instant relief from their situation. But if they’re willing to engage with the support available to them then we see positive outcomes which keeps me motivated.

Obviously my favourite part of the role is seeing people housed, but often this can actually be where the challenge begins for the rough sleeper who has become accustomed to living on the streets. This is why the support we provide is hugely beneficial.

Housing First is a national housing and support approach for homeless people and is part of the Rough Sleepers Initiative in Eastbourne. Southdown provides this multi-disciplinary team with tenancy sustainment support provided by our Home Works service.