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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

Supporting people who are sleeping rough


What’s the best way to support people who are sleeping rough? Mike Ash, acting corporate director for communities and housing at Swindon Borough Council, outlines the new approach his team is taking.

At the end of last year, we developed a targeted programme of activity to support up to 12 people during the winter months – what we’re aiming to do is radically improve the health, housing and wider opportunities for as many of these individuals as possible. We’re working with health services locally including GPs, mental health professionals as well as substance and alcohol misuse advisers at social care charity Change Grow Live.

Central to the project, which got underway at the start of January and will run until mid-March, is providing temporary accommodation at a former NHS walk-in centre in central Swindon.

Having got the necessary planning and building regulation approvals in place thanks to the hard work of the council’s in-house teams, getting it ready for occupation wouldn’t have been possible without a huge effort by volunteers who have donated and sourced furniture, provisions, clothing and equipment as well as decorating and cleaning the building.

So how is it working in practice? The project is managed by four paid shift leaders and a bank of more than 100 volunteers, who have all received extensive training. Guests are referred into the project by a multi-agency panel, and before arriving they sign an agreement which covers expected behaviours and outcomes.

Each guest signs in every evening as part of the daily log and we provide an evening meal, followed by settling-in activities. There’s a quiet seated area for people who are struggling to sleep as well as an outdoor smoking area. In the morning guests head off for their breakfast at the nearby Big Breakfast Plus centre based at a local church. Throughout the day, activities focus on targeted advice sessions and treatment.

It’s still very early days for the project but in the first two weeks we have gradually and carefully increased the group size so that they become a community in their own right, supporting each other in the shared objectives of the scheme.

In week one the first four guests settled in, joined by a further four in week two. The second group had slightly higher needs so it was good to establish a core group in week one. We now have nine guests all participating well and staying with us for the duration. By the end of week four we hope to be up to our full complement of 12 guests until the middle of March.

I’ll keep you posted on the results in my next guest blog for CIH.

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