Wealthy Jerk Doesn’t Want To See The Homeless

A wealthy American businessman has caused outrage after writing an open letter complaining about the homeless – who he refers to as “riff raff” – he encounters on his way to work.

Justin Keller, founder of web business, wrote the letter to the mayor and police chief of San Francisco to voice his “concern and outrage over the increasing homeless and drug problem that the city is faced with. I’ve been living in SF for over three years and without a doubt it is the worst it has ever been.”

“Every day, on my way to and from work, I see people sprawled across the sidewalk, tent cities, human feces and the faces of addiction. The city is becoming a shanty town … Worst of all, it is unsafe,” he wrote.

Amazingly, Keller said that because he had worked hard and made a lot of money he should not have to be confronted with such sights.

“I know people are frustrated about gentrification happening in the city, but the reality is, we live in a free market society,” he said. “The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city.”

He went on: “I shouldn’t have to worry about being accosted. I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day,” he wrote.

Not surprisingly, his letter caused a flood of angry responses on social media where fellow San Franciscans condemned him. One said: “Thanks Justin Keller for reminding us how entitled privileged people feel about other human beings. Always refreshing.”

Health policy advocate Andrew Noble said: “Dear Justin Keller: so sorry you have to see poverty. Must be hard on you.” Another Twitter user, also called Justin Keller, was forced to protest that he was not the one responsible for the “myopic” open letter.

Keller later wrote an apology for use of the term “riff raff”, saying his choice of words had been “insensitive and counterproductive”.

Important Research Takes Off From Venus

imigrationA social work student from Liverpool John Moore’s University has embarked on a crucial study of the experiences and needs of migrant mothers, following a placement at Venus Women’s Centre.

The student, Frances Rogers, said: “I became interested in the diverse experiences of this service user group whilst on my placement at Venus Women’s Centre. I am interested in practical issues they face such as Visa and financial issues but also their experiences of culturally sensitive social work. As part of my MA Social Work degree at John Moore’s University I am conducting a research project into the experiences of women born overseas who have had and raised children in the UK.”

The study seeks to build understanding and practical knowledge around migratory experiences, migration legislation, and the effect this has on the lives of women as individuals and as mothers. The research will use narrative interviews to allow participants to tell their story in their own words. This will help to explore the experiences of migrant women in their role as mothers, and how they have experienced early intervention services and social services on Merseyside.

The study has received ethical approval from Liverpool John Moore’s Faculty Research Ethics Panel. Consequently, the information obtained as part of the study will be anonymised and the opinion of each individual participant will be unidentifiable in the final dissertation and any further publications.

Frances added: “I am currently seeking participants for my study and contacting organisations to enquire whether they have service users who fit the criteria and who would be interested in taking part. The research will be conducted through semi-structured interviews, which is intended to be engaging and participant-led.”

“I aim to gather findings on the diverse experiences ‘migrant’ mothers have of raising their children in the UK, engagement with services and ways in which their needs are met in culturally sensitive ways. I do not have access to interpreters so, unfortunately, I am only able to include in my study women who can access community support services without interpreters.”

If you would like to participate in the study, or if you require any further information, please contact Venus at 0151 474 4744 or emails to hello@venuscharity.org.

Reds Fan Takes A Homeless Blues Fan To The Everton Game

An act of kindness has touched the hearts of thousands of people around the world following a recent post on Facebook. The story went viral after a Liverpool fan explained how he took a homeless Everton fan to Goodison to watch the Blues.

The Reds fan, Ross Jenkins, wrote: “So this is a picture of me on the left and Darren (a homeless guy from Liverpool). Every day on my way to work I see Darren. He says hello, we have a chat, and I go get him a cup of coffee. He’s a massive Everton fan and I’m a massive Liverpool fan, but we always have good banter about the football.

Darren used to have a job, and a girlfriend, but he lost all that after his girlfriend died and he went into depression. Now he lives on the streets in Liverpool.

So I decided that instead of spending money on stupid things at Christmas (like cards and expensive food) I’d use the money to get Darren and I tickets to an EVERTON match. When I told him he burst out crying and gave me the best hug ever. We had a great time at the match and he was so grateful (he even offered to buy the coffee this time).

Anyway, the reason I’m posting this today is that Darren is no longer on the streets. He’s got a council flat and is working part time. Last week he had me round for dinner. I’m so proud of him.

I posted this story to show you that a little bit of kindness can go so far and help get someone on the right track again. I used to drink coffee with Darren on the streets, then I did it at Goodison Park, and now we drink it in his flat.”

It just goes to show that, in Liverpool, You’ll Never Walk Alone!

Lateral Thinking Beats The Bedroom Tax

Since the introduction of the ‘bedroom tax’ in 2013, demand for three-bedroom homes has dwindled, leaving many social housing landlords with empty properties on their hands as smaller families just can’t afford them.

But one Liverpool-based housing association has used some lateral thinking to get around the problem – they simply knocked through the walls to turn the three bedrooms into two!

Cobalt Housing saw demand for three-bedroom properties in Croxteth, Norris Green and Fazakerley fall dramatically, so they converted more than 80 homes from three- to two-beds.

And their innovative approach has put them in the running for a top national award at the finals of the UK Housing Awards 2016. The shortlisting also comes in recognition of their new handy-person service, which provides free support to tenants for everything from hanging pictures to decorating.

The service, ‘Cobalt Plus’, uses their in-house team rather than external contractors, saving £75,000 during 2014/15. This allowed Cobalt to support local work and training opportunities by taking on five apprentices.

Alan Rogers, Cobalt managing director, said: “We’re really proud to have made it to the finals of the awards, which recognise excellence in housing nationally. Welfare reform and the bedroom tax was the key driver for us to develop a new and innovative approach to making sure we are providing decent homes of the right size that people can afford to live in.”

“Customers are telling us they’re really happy with the converted properties and we are planning to make the same changes to over 100 more. Setting up Cobalt Plus has also allowed us to provide extra help to new tenants, save money that can be invested in homes and services, and create apprenticeship opportunities for local people.”

Cobalt is a finalist in the ‘Outstanding Approach to Repairs and Maintenance’ category at the UK Housing Awards, which recognise achievement in the social housing sector. The winners will be announced at a ceremony in London in April.

New Start Win New Contract

We are pleased to announce that one of our consortium members, New Start, has helped secure a 4-year contract to deliver housing and support to a diverse range of single homeless client groups across Liverpool.  Working in partnership with a number of Liverpool-based housing support providers, New Start formed a consortium similar to SSHG.

The Liverpool YMCA is leading the successful consortium partners, which also includes Local Solutions, NACRO, North West Property Custodians, Nugent Care and Plus Dane.

New Start Managing Director, Neil Baynes, said: “We are pleased to announce that our consortium bid has been successful in securing this important contract. The breadth of knowledge and expertise across the consortium members is fantastic.”

“We are thrilled to be working alongside Liverpool YMCA, Local Solutions, NACRO, North West Property Custodians, Nugent Care and Plus Dane, to deliver high-quality supported housing across Liverpool. It’s early days yet, so I cant really say too much more because the whole process is not quite finished.”

For more information about New Start, please click on the Members domain at the top of the page.

Housing Is Harm Reduction

Housing is harm reductionWe are proud to support a new awareness-raising campaign that is taking off on social media. The ‘Housing Is Harm Reduction’ slogan refers to the fact that safe accommodation is a prerequisite to reducing the harms, to both individuals and communities, from drug misuse.

The Harm Reduction movement was born in Liverpool in 1985, when the first needle exchange programme in the UK was opened on Maryland Street in the city centre to help stem the spread of HIV/AIDS. Since then, the ethos of working with active drug users to help them prevent a range of harm from drugs has gone global following the first International Conference of the Reduction of Drug Related Harm was held here in 1990.

Alan Matthews, Chair of Trustees at Bosco House, was one of the original workers that set up the needle exchange and developed the idea of harm reduction interventions. He said: “In the early days, around 1985, HIV and AIDS was virtually unknown in the UK. Then we began to hear reports of drug injectors in Edinburgh becoming infected with HIV through sharing injection equipment.”

“That prompted us to take a leap into the dark, even though we knew it was the right thing to do, and set up the needle exchange. There was only four of us working at the Maryland Street office at the time, but we soon attracted over 300 people who regularly came to bring back used needles and syringes. So we knew it would work, and it has. A ten-year review of our HIV prevention work published in 1996 concluded that we had averted a major epidemic in the UK.”

“We also began to attract homeless people who were injecting heroin and it quickly became obvious to us that being homeless was a real obstacle to maintaining effective interventions. All the counseling and methadone you can give a person isn’t worth anything if they are sleeping rough or haven’t got a safe place to lay their head at night. That experience, gained all those years ago, and my work now at Bosco House, is why I’m backing Housing Is Harm Reduction.”

How Do We Count The Homeless?

Each year local authorities up and down the country have to set their budgets to provide a range of services for the residents of their Boroughs. But there is one section of our communities that is notoriously difficult to pin down – the homeless.

As many homeless people move around from area to area in search of accommodation, knowing how much of council funds to allocate to meet their needs is guesswork at the best of times. Counting those that are referred into the system because they have recently became homeless is one method, but what about those who are off the radar – the sofa-surfers who kip at a friend’s house for a few nights before moving on, and rough-sleepers who don’t show up on any surveys or government statistics?

The failure to adequately quantify the size of the homeless population is highlighted in a fascinating article on theconversation.com website. The authors, Adele Irving and Oliver Moss, both Senior Research Fellows at Northumbria University, also point to the dearth of qualitative data available on the needs of the homeless.

This is because there’s a big difference between the number of people who the state recognise as homeless and how many people actually are – the distinction between the “statutory” homeless and the “non-statutory” or “single” homeless.

The “statutory” homeless are those who apply to local authorities as homeless, and are accepted as such. People are only accepted if the council deems that they are eligible for housing support, or can be classed as being “unintentionally homeless” or in “priority need”. So information on statutory homelessness is readily available because all local authorities have to report the number of statutory homelessness applications they received (and “acceptances” made) to the government on a quarterly basis.

“Single” homeless are those without dependents and not entitled to be housed by local authorities. This makes true figures very difficult to confirm as they are outside the system. Some of these are visible on our streets, but most remain out of sight – “hidden” in bed and breakfasts or squats and on the floors and couches of friends and family. There is no effective method of counting “single” homelessness, so these people don’t appear in government statistics.

A best guess is that there were over two million single homeless people in England in 2013!

To find out more, click here.

Rent Reduction Deferred (For Now) Says Minister

After months of lobbying and hearing evidence from across the housing sector, the Minister of State for Welfare Reform has announced a “year-long exception for all supported accommodation from the 1% rent reduction in the social rented sector”. The reduction was due to come into effect this April, leading many providers to wonder how they can accommodate a cut in income.

But on Wednesday (27.1.16), Lord Freud made the following commitment to address the issue: “I am not in a position to be utterly specific about how we will do this, but I can say that we will put in place the appropriate protections for those in supported housing. DWP and DCLG will be working closely together to make sure that those protections are in place.”

“We appreciate the concern, and we will aim to do this urgently. There are various solutions one could discuss, but I make that commitment in the context of what I have already said about the 1%. We will now just sort out the caps.”

Lord Freud was referring to the proposal to cap housing benefit at the same level as private landlords, that would leave many supported housing providers in a perilous financial state and possibly causing some to close down.

In a letter to Sheila Howard, Bosco manager, Rick Henderson from Homeless Link said: “While the suspension is only initially for a year, we believe it is an important change which addresses an immediate concern for services that were threatened by the potential reduction in their rental income.”

“Beyond this change, we look forward to working constructively with Government, other key stakeholders and our members to address other funding concerns agencies have, such as the LHA caps.”

Sheila commented: “This is good news, for now, but there is still a lot of work to be done to convince the government that any cuts that impact on the provision of supported housing is a false economy. Some of our most vulnerable residents need high-intensity, high-quality support and anything that affects that will lead to greater cost elsewhere, such as an increased demand on the NHS and Social Services.”

“These are turbulent financial times for our sector, but we must keep our eye on the ball if we are to continue providing the level of support and care that our residents need” she said.

Proposed LHA Cap Causes Concern Across The Social Housing Sector

Last November the Government outlined their plans to extend Local Housing Allowance (LHA) to social landlords. This, in effect, would mean that those living in supported housing would only be able to claim the same housing benefit as those under private landlords, leading to a massive shortfall in income for providers.

At present, social housing providers are excluded from LHA, which is intended to cover any costs associated with renting a property, such as core rent and eligible service charges. However, the new rules will apply to those who sign their tenancy from April 2016 onwards, although the LHA rate of Housing Benefit entitlement will not apply until 2018. The potential impact of this change could lead to services closing due to the extent of the shortfall between the costs of running services and the amount eligible under LHA.

But Homeless Link is leading the fight-back against the changes. They said: “We know this will have a major impact on the homelessness sector so we need to start collecting evidence to help convince the Government to rethink their plans. To make sure we can make the strongest case, we need to know how the shortfall will affect services.”

“From what we understand, supported housing will be covered by the new rules. This has understandably caused alarm among our members. We have prioritised this issue and, since the announcements, we have been working with the Government to seek clarity and understand how the projected impact will be mitigated.”

“While the Government has said they are committed to protecting supported housing, the mechanism for how that will happen is not yet known. We are not confident that additional Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) will be sufficient to cover the gap in revenue this would create.”

To gather this evidence, Homeless Link have set up a simple online spreadsheet that organisations can fill in with basic rental information. All of this will be kept anonymous, but when combined with information from other organisations it will provide a powerful snapshot of the impact the changes will have on the sector.

To find out more, click here.

The Russian Winter Claims The Lives Of Many Homeless People

Whilst we in the UK are complaining about the topsy-turvy weather we’ve been experiencing of late – gales, floods, but extremely mild temperatures – spare a thought for the rough-sleepers of Moscow. In a couple of months the ‘snowdrops’ will become visible as the snow begins to thaw.

‘Snowdrops’ is the euphemism the Russians use for the frozen bodies of homeless people that are found in early spring, previously buried under piles of snow. There are, of course, many reasons why someone might freeze to death and become covered by snow, but most of the time it’s the fate of the homeless.

A report on the Sky News website says that statistics are hard to come by when it comes to homeless people in Moscow. The official number is around 6,000, but other organisations say it is many times that. Natalya Markova, from the Moscow charity Friends On The Street, said: “The last census says there are around 6,000 homeless in Moscow, but I think the real number is much higher.”

“The amount of deaths declined in general, but even still, every spring we order a memorial service for those who perished in winter in the cathedral. There are no less than 50-80 names on the commemoration list every year.”

Local authorities in Moscow do provide assistance to the homeless through the use of a mobile patrol service, which includes a few vehicles with paramedics driving around the city and taking those who are worst affected to shelters. But many homeless people refuse to go into government shelters because they complain of being mistreated.

Sky’s news producer in Moscow, Yulia Bragina, reports: “Warm places like the underground and shopping malls are out of bounds for them, so they end up hiding in basements, and sewage and central heating systems. There are other people living inside manholes around the area, we were told.”

Russia has gone through three economic crises since 1990. This current meltdown is the fourth, caused by the near-collapse of oil prices and sanctions. This turmoil is especially dangerous for the 4.4 million jobless people, who don’t have any social safety net.

City official Andrei Pentukhov believes the current crisis doesn’t really have an impact on the situation: “Whatever happens in the world, it doesn’t influence the amount of homeless people in Russia because alcohol abuse is the main reason why Russian people end up on the streets.”

However, Ms. Markova said the Friends On The Street charity is getting more and more calls asking for help, and more people, including pensioners and single parents, are using their soup kitchens.