The Town That Eliminated Homelessness

In 2009, the city of Medicine Hat, in southern Alberta, Canada, pledged to put an end to homelessness. Now city officials say they’ve fulfilled their promise.

The answer seems simple: if you’ve got no place to go, they’ll provide you with housing. Nowadays, under a programme called Housing First, no one in the city spends more than ten days in an emergency shelter or on the streets.

Like most places, housing is tight in Medicine Hat, and frequent flooding in the past few years has added to their problems. But, with money chipped in by the province, the city built many new homes.

“We’re pretty much able to meet that standard today. Even quicker, actually, sometimes,” Mayor Ted Clugston says. He admits that when the project began in 2009, when he was an alderman, he was an active opponent of the plan. “I even said some dumb things like, ‘Why should they have granite countertops when I don’t,'” he says. “However, I’ve come around to realise that this makes financial sense.”

Clugston says that it costs about $20,000 a year to house someone. If they’re on the street, it can cost up to $100,000 a year. “This is the cheapest and the most humane way to treat people,” he says.

“Housing First turns everything on its head. It used to be, ‘You want a home, get off the drugs or deal with your mental health issues,'” Clugston says. “If you’re addicted to drugs, it’s going to be pretty hard to get off them, if you’re sleeping under a park bench.”

And the strategy seems to have worked. In Medicine Hat, hospital emergency room visits and interactions with police have dropped. But there was one change that initially surprised Clugston — court appearances went up.

“They end up dealing with their past, atoning for their sins,” he says. Mayor Clugston believes that no one on the streets is unreachable.

He says city staff found housing for one man, but he insisted on leaving to sleep under cars. Day after day, they’d search him out and take him back to his new home.

“They did it 75 times, but they had the patience and they didn’t give up on him and, eventually, he ended up staying in the house,” he says. “Ultimately, people do want a roof over their heads.”

Housing Benefits Caught In The Crossfire Of Political Infighting

Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, is targeting housing benefit to pay for a climb down over tax credit changes, according to The Sunday Times. Mr. Osborne has faced stiff resistance from both political opponents and Conservative rebels over plans to slash tax credits for millions of working families.

Under plans announced in the Summer budget, around three million working families would lose £1,300 a year in vital income. Osborne is looking to save £4.4bn from the tax credits bill, as part of a £12bn cut in overall welfare spending.

The Chancellor proposed increasing the taper rate for Universal Credit to reduce the impact of the cuts, meaning those affected would lose 75p of each pound taken home over the earnings threshold – rather than 65p. Opponents argue that the move would undermine work incentives by removing the principle that Universal Credit rewards people for moving into work or taking on more hours.

However, it was reported that Work and Pensions Secretary, Ian Duncan Smith, threatened to resign if Osborne raided the Universal Credit budget to offset his cuts. Allies of IDS say he has managed to fend off the Chancellor, who is now said to be targeting deeper cuts to housing benefit instead.

Iain Duncan Smith is reportedly looking at a social housing shared ownership scheme, in an attempt to bring down the £24.6bn housing benefit bill. Tenants living in social housing for longer than three years will be offered 70% of the equity in the home and rent the remaining 30%.

Meanwhile, Osborne is said to be bringing forward plans to increase the income personal tax allowance.

But Conservative rebel, Stephen McPartland, said: “The simple fact is that for those families on very low incomes, these changes will hurt them not help them.” Mr. McPartland also revealed figures obtained from the House of Commons Library, showing that hundreds of thousands of people claiming child tax credit would also be affected.

“The Chancellor now has to come forward with measures not only to mitigate the effects of the changes to tax credits, but to guarantee to protect families’ child tax credits”.

A government source told the Sunday Times: “Iain’s won the day. No one wants him resigning. Housing benefit is now being looked at instead.” However, they warned that less severe cuts to tax credits are still likely to go ahead. “There are still questions around universal credit but you’re not going to see anything like 75p”, they said.

Jilted Bride Invites Homeless To The Non-Wedding Reception

A jilted bride saw past her heartbreak and threw her planned wedding reception for the benefit of her local homeless community instead.

Quinn Duane, 27, was due to tie the knot with Landon Dorup on the 17th of October in Sacramento, USA. But the groom-to-be got cold feet and called off the wedding at the last moment.

But, rather than seeing the plans go to waste, Quinn’s family decided to go ahead with the $35,000 (£22,000) reception anyway. Deposits had already been paid to the four-star Citizen Hotel and with more bills due to come, a cancellation would have seen food for 120 guests go to waste.

Guests at the extravagant feast came from the shelter Next Move and included families with babies and young children, single people and grandparents. Among the 90 homeless visitors who did attend were Rashad Abdullah, his wife Erika Craycraft and their five children. Ms. Craycraft said: “To lose out on something so important to yourself and then give it to someone else is really giving, really kind.”

Quinn’s mum, Kari, commented, “I went into action mode. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to give to them.”

Quinn was unable to attend the meal because she was too busy packing for her pre-booked honeymoon to Belize shortly afterwards. The flowers from the ceremony were donated to local nursing homes.

‘Wet House’ Idea To Be Tried In Australia

A programme involving dispensing alcohol, just like medication, may be an answer to problems associated with homeless people battling chronic drink problems, say researchers. A new report, Feasibility of a Managed Alcohol Program (MAP) for Sydney’s homeless, has been prepared by St Vincent’s Hospital and funded by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education.

Unlike here in the UK, in Australia housing and other services targeting the homeless require abstinence before they will work with them. However, participants in the new scheme would be provided with housing, health and social services at a centre where they’d also be supplied with a standard drink hourly from 7am to 10pm.

Most alcohol-related services in the UK do not allow their clients to drink while on the premises. But, in the late 1970s, ‘wet’ projects were established in response to the recognition that for some homeless heavy drinkers this was an unrealistic requirement that excluded them from services and did nothing to address concerns over street drinking.

MAPs lead researcher, Dr. Nadine Ezard, said: “Alcohol dependent homeless people experience higher rates of chronic illness, injuries and assaults, longer hospital stays, increased mortality, and higher levels of contact with the criminal justice system. Many also suffer from mental illness and alcohol-related brain injury.”

The researchers reviewed the evidence on MAPs and conducted a small survey of potential MAP users in Sydney to estimate the costs and savings in setting one up a pilot 15-person facility in the city. They found the costs would easily be offset by medical, criminal justice, and crisis accommodation savings, estimating a net benefit of at least $485,000.

Those surveyed were asked about a day shelter or a residential facility that either allowed bring-your-own alcohol or provided one drink every hour for 15 hours a day. Most indicated a strong interest in a MAP, preferably for the residential model, being prepared to pay up to 90 per cent of their income where alcohol was provided.

Noting public nuisance and cost savings, Dr. Ezard said one participant had taken part in a short-term withdrawal program 116 times. MAPs could also prevent people from drinking “non-beverage alcohol” such as methylated spirits or hospital hand wash.

Dr. Ezard concluded: “We are trying to start a dialogue, very much from a public health, harm reduction perspective, and put forward an alternative for policymakers.”

Excel Open New Services For Veterans

 

In a timely nod to the sacrifices made by our armed forces on Remembrance Day, Excel Housing Solutions have opened new facilities to provide supported accommodation for some of Liverpool’s ex-services personnel.

Jenny Barnes, from Excel, said: “We have recently opened two services for veterans with support needs. All the properties are shared and fully furnished to a high standard.”

There is a real, and growing, need for this kind of support. Figures released by the MoD reveal 5,076 soldiers were found to have “mental health disorders” in 2013 – 28 per cent higher than in 2011. Early statistics from the first half of 2014 suggest the number is set to rise again.

The charity Combat Stress, which supports veterans with mental health issues said: “This increase is mainly accounted for by a marked rise in those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan seeking help.”

Some 2,264 personnel have requested treatment, with three-quarters said to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – an average of six veterans per day over the last 12 months. Many are also affected by depression and abuse of alcohol and drugs, symptoms associated with the condition.

Jenny also commented: “We have established working partnerships with Liverpool Veterans HQ, who do a fabulous job in supporting all veterans in the community.”

For more information, go to Excel’s website www.excelhousingsolutions.com

You can also support our veterans and their families by donating tinned goods and toys to their ‘Christmas Food & Toy Appeal’. For more information go to www.liverpoolveterans.co.uk

A Not So Merry Xmas On The Cards For The UK’s Homeless Families

More than 100,000 children will wake up homeless on Christmas morning, according to a new report. The number of children being forced to live in temporary housing is at the highest level since 2008, with the numbers rocketing by 15,000 in the past year.

The report, from the housing charity Shelter, warns that the equivalent of four children in every UK school are living in temporary accommodation – the highest level since the financial crash in 2008. The number of families living in B&Bs has more than trebled, to about 2,700, with a rise of 25% in the past year alone.

Shelter’s Alison Mohammed said, “The sad fact is almost every day we hear from families who’ve fallen on hard times and found themselves living in a single, cramped room of a B&B or hostel, unable to give their children the environment they need to grow and thrive in.

“Worrying about your child’s safety, eating dinners on the floor and sharing beds is no way for a family to live. But, sadly, we know we’re going to have even more families facing Christmas without a place to call home.”

The report also looked at 20 families living in single rooms and found children suffering from extreme anxiety. Many children and parents had to share a bed, most also said their room was in a state of disrepair, and more than half saying it was not secure. Many also had to eat meals on the floor or on their bed.

The dismal statistics come amid a housing crisis with families priced out by sky-high rents.

Amsterdam street drinkers paid in beer to collect litter

Free beer is the order of the day at the Rainbow Group in Amsterdam, but you have to clear the streets of rubbish to qualify.

Around 20 street-drinkers have joined the project. They start at 09.00, have regular breaks for beer, cigarettes and a hot lunch – all provided free of charge – and finish up by 15.00.

Project co-ordinator Janet van de Noord said: “It’s quite difficult to get these people off the alcohol completely. We have tried everything else. Now this is the only thing that works. We might not make them better, but we are giving them a better quality of life and it’s better for the neighbourhood, they’re giving something back to society.”

The Rainbow Group, a charity that is part-funded by the Dutch government, is reluctant to say how many of the 6,000 cans of beer in stock are paid for by the government in case it generates bad publicity that might affect funding.

But Ms van de Noord argues it is a cost-effective way to tackle the impact of street-drinking. “If people are being arrested, it also costs society a lot of money. So this can only be a good thing. I don’t see why other countries wouldn’t want to do it.”

Since the street-cleaning programme started 12 months ago, local police have received fewer reports of stabbings and muggings in the park and local residents say they are happy with the government supporting this approach. Instead of being ostracised by society, the street-drinkers’ needs appear to have been incorporated into the Dutch healthcare system.

At the Jellinek Centre, one of Amsterdam’s drug treatment services, Floor van Bakkum says the project is a good way to deal with “a very problematic group – it’s kind of harm reduction”. She likened it to giving carefully monitored methadone or heroin doses to chronic heroin addicts.

“It might help them to do something else with their life. You always have to monitor such a project, so it shouldn’t attract new alcoholics – it’s not an open invitation to drink in Oosterpark.” She said the scheme is targeting street-drinkers, and would be inappropriate for alcoholics who still live at home and have a job.

The founders of the project approach the issue using the only device that is guaranteed to connect with the patients. “I come for the beer. If there was no beer then why would I come?” says Rene, one of the service users.

Regardless of their motivations, Rene and his friends are making a positive difference in a community where they were once despised. “It’s true,” Rene concedes, acknowledging the irony. “They used to treat us like garbage – and now we are picking up their garbage, we are not the garbage anymore.”

Venus Makers Keep On Making

Venus are renowned for the diverse range of activities and sessions that happen at Our Place, that anyone in the community can get involved with. One such activity is our Makers Project.

The Makers Project started off with a funded tutor a year ago, with the aim of supporting people to participate and develop cottage-industry skills like various crafts, sewing, crocheting, knitting, card making, etc. The hope was that this could develop into a Community Interest Company (CIC), a not-for-profit, self-sufficient organisation that helps people develop skills. Any income generated from the endeavor is then ploughed back into the business.

The tutor has now ended her work with the group, but it has been so successful the participants now meet weekly of their own accord and organised stalls at local craft fairs to sell their wares. The group is really welcoming and supportive, and the Centre is a hive of activity when they are around!

As well as making items to sell, the group is also developing skills in making and repairing clothing, which is really helpful to everyone concerned. Some of the group now regularly bring the odd item of clothing for hemming or adjusting in some way.

The group is open to anyone who is interested in taking part, so call Venus on 0151 474 4744 or drop in at The Venus Centre, 215 Linacre Lane, Bootle, L20 6AD, for more information.

A Lifesaver Comes To Sefton

The lifesaving drug Naloxone could soon be more readily available to residents of supported housing services in Sefton. A recent change in the law means that Naloxone, an antidote to heroin overdose, could soon be in every hostel in the Borough.

Under previous legislation, only a hostel’s doctor or residents’ GPs could prescribe Naloxone to individuals at risk, whilst those in treatment could be prescribed it from their drug treatment service. But, from the 1st October this year, Naloxone will more readily available for those that need it.

This relaxation of restrictions on the availability of Naloxone could help save lives in Sefton. The drug has no abuse potential, is harmless to someone who doesn’t use opiates, doesn’t give a ‘high’ and is not addictive, but can reverse a heroin overdose.

The change in the law will mean workers at drug treatment services are now able to supply the drug, without a prescription, to anyone needing it to reverse a heroin overdose and save lives. This means that Naloxone could be prescribed to a named person in a hostel.

Naloxone can now be supplied to:

  • Someone who is using or has previously used opiates (illicit or prescribed) and is at potential risk of overdose.
  • A carer, family member or friend who is liable to be on-hand in case of overdose.
  • A named individual in a hostel, which could be a manager or other member of staff.

In short, a drug treatment service could supply Naloxone to an individual in a hostel, such as the manager. The hostel manager could then arrange for the Naloxone to be available for staff or resident use in case of an overdose on the premises.

Overdose deaths in England rose by a third (32%) in 2013, according to the Office of National Statistics. However, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland already have a national take home naloxone programmes that have contributed to deaths remaining static in Wales and actually falling in Scotland, reported the Naloxone Action Group (NAG).

Sefton Supported Housing Group is now planning to have Naloxone readily available to all residents who may be at risk of overdose.

Homeless street-drinkers brew their own beer

An innovative project in Vancouver, Canada, has come up with a novel way to help street drinkers refrain from drinking harmful products like mouthwash and hand sanitiser – they teach clients how to brew their own beer and wine.

Launched last year, the alcohol cooperative scheme supplies members with five liters of home-brewed beer or wine each month. To qualify, members must pay a $10 monthly fee, mix and bottle the batches themselves, and be members of the centre’s ‘Drinker’s Lounge’, a support group for about 90 street drinkers.

Mark Townsend, director of the Drug Users Resource Centre, a publicly funded agency that runs the co-op, says the idea is to keep Vancouver’s homeless alcoholics from turning to “rubbish” sources of alcohol like hand sanitiser or mouthwash. “We do know that it’s better that people don’t drink rubbing alcohol,” he said.

Kevin, a new member of the group, said: “To get five bottles for $10, that attracted me to it.” He also praised its “health aspect,” arguing that drinking homemade beer is better than “drinking rub [rubbing alcohol] or some bottle I found in a bin somewhere.”

Kevin and two other members of the cooperative, Tim and Rob, help to bottle up jugs of fermented beer, one containing Dutch lager, the other honey lager. Previous sessions have also brewed wine, and a batch of chardonnay is expected to be ready to distribute soon.

“It’s more economically viable than buying it at a liquor store. You get more bang for your buck,” said Rob, a local man who has been with the project since it started last summer. Although Rob never drank mouthwash or other industrial alcohols, he did say the project has stopped him from stealing. The five litres, he says, lasts him for about a week.