31 Mar 2022

Appropriate support, at the appropriate time, by the appropriate agency

If we acknowledge the reasons for homelessness are complex, interconnected and often begin in early life, it makes sense that effective solutions require the involvement of a host of individuals, agencies, organisations and services, working collaboratively to offer a whole community response. By marrying a sense of common purpose to a supportive structure, mobilizing knowledge and expertise, we move to a position of offering the appropriate support, at the appropriate time, by the appropriate agency.

This should come as no surprise that as a professional youth work practitioner I will use my own sector to illustrate some key points. There are those who question what role the youth and community sector has in helping to address homelessness. With local authority housing departments, housing associations and specific homelessness charities having vast amounts of experience, knowledge and skills on the related issues and relevant legislation, it seems relevant to question why the Welsh Government have recently prescribed a more prominent role for the sector.

So, what expertise does the youth work sector bring to the table? Well, let us start by acknowledging it is not a comprehensive knowledge of the housing sector. Instead we can begin with the long-term engagement of young people aged 11-25, supporting them to make the transition into adulthood, based on the establishment of a trusting relationship between worker and young person. Developing and using these trusting relationships, offering informed advice, support and guidance. Signposting to other agencies where appropriate. Acting as a gateway service to others. Helping individuals to develop their self-efficacy so they are equipped to manage trials and tribulations throughout their lives.  Aiding the development of the skills and knowledge needed to make a successful transition to independence and the ability to maintain this status.  

Public Health Wales have produced a document entitled ‘Voices of those with lived experiences of homelessness and adversity in Wales’. In a section, titled ‘Preventing homelessness through the life course’ two key elements are listed under Childhood resilienceprotective factors and barriers to support.  Reflection on the latter first indicates a broad range of factors act as such barriers including not being listened to, lack of trust, not seeing the person behind the presenting behaviour. A quick reminder, these are prescribed by people with first-hand experience of such matters. So what about the protective factors?   Well, arguably these are more readily available and cost effective than some may anticipate and include belonging to a community, trusted relationships with adults, supportive teachers and youth workers and a supportive family.

Such evidence reinforces the need for communities to develop a collaborative approach to addressing homelessness. For all stakeholders to work to their own strengths, effectively utilise the range of skills, knowledge, expertise and resources that exist. It also goes beyond relying on the professional sector and recognises the whole community have a proactive role to play. It supports a case that homelessness cannot be solved by simply building more homes; though we all know this would help immensely.  Giving people the keys to a property without the appropriate help, support and guidance is debatably the equivalent of handing the keys to a car to someone who has never driven before and saying ‘see how you get on’.  

Some stakeholders do not meet individuals until times of crisis.  The window to build, develop and maintain the trusting relationships, referred above, is therefore limited. In which case, why not use the existing relationships others have with those we all aim to support? If we are to prevent homelessness through the life course, we must ensure our sense of common purpose and supportive structures enable us to offer the appropriate support, at the appropriate time, by the appropriate agency.

Written by Nick Hudd

Nick Hudd is a professionally qualified youth work practitioner. He is currently employed by a local authority youth service; designing and delivering programmes, interventions and support services aimed at addressing youth homelessness.

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Join Nick for the keynote session 'ending homelessness in all its forms' to explore the impact rapid rehousing is making to address rough sleeping and what further progress is needed in tandem to reduce and end homelessness in all its forms in Wales.'