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The new homeless: 'Her life just turned bad, by one simple thing'

Threshold also helps people who are homeless to find a home – and stay there.

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AT THRESHOLD, THE national housing charity, they:

  • Prevent people from becoming homeless
  • Help people in a homeless shelter find a home – and stay there

At their Cork office, the staff told us about how challenging the current environment is, with a dwindling supply of houses and an unsuitable rent cap.

From emergency accommodation to a home of your own

Suzanne Carpendale works at Threshold’s Access Housing Unit (AHU), and describes homeless people as “the forgotten, invisible people of our society”.

A lot of people in our society haven’t moved past the stereotypical homeless person. People don’t see the true story and the true position they’re in. And of course it’s going to impede and hold someone back – because if your address is a homeless hostel, it’s not that easy to find a job.

She says it can take very little time before people become entrenched in homelessness, so they work on trying to move them out of the situation as quickly as possible.

Threshold recognises that finding a home is only one part of the solution to homelessness: people need to be equipped with the tools to sustain their tenancies.

“People were moving into private rented accommodation and weren’t able to maintain it,” explains Carpendale of the AHU’s genesis. The AHU takes a holistic, case-management approach, engaging the service users, landlords, and multiple agencies.

The ultimate aim is once the Tenancy Sustainment service is withdrawn, [and the person is in a home] the individual has the skills and confidence to live independently and has created positive relationships with the local community and services.

The AHU has been in operation for two years and has supported:

  • 84 households – 84 adults and 37 children – to move from emergency accommodation
  • All of them received or are receiving Tenancy Sustainment services
  • 79 households were housed in the private rented sector, and five with alternative housing bodies
  • Of these, 11 single people have returned to homelessness, reflecting an 87% sustainment rate.

People are referred from homeless hostels, and then assessed. Once they’re in a home, Threshold’s Advice and Accommodation Worker continues to link in by phone, and helps them stay in contact with support services in the community.

They supply people with the rent supplement paperwork, and deal with Community Welfare Officers (CWOs) with them, and utility providers too.

Some are very capable for individual living – some need a lot of support. Some people you might have contact with 90 times over a very short period of time.

The “new homeless”

We are now seeing more people at risk of losing their tenancies and homes due to the impact of the recession. Advice calls relating to mortgage and rent arrears, and repossessions are increasing.

“There is constantly an intake of people. Hostels are filled to capacity all the time,” says Carpendale.

She has seen an increase in what she would call “the new homeless”, people who find themselves without a home due to financial stress, break-ups, losing the family home or other reasons.

There are people who are not in hostels, but sleeping on a friend’s couch or at threat of losing accommodation.

There are also people with addiction issues who have never had to access homeless services before, but found it too difficult to source accommodation of late.

Difficulties in doing this work

shutterstock_138619964 Rent Source: Shutterstock

The work isn’t always easy – as Carpendale puts it, there can be “gaps and blocks”.

  • Rent supplement

Rent supplement must be reviewed after six months – but it’s not always a simple process, says Carpendale:

“That tends to be a huge stumbling block for a lot of people because they can’t understand the form, they’ve moved away from services… then all of a sudden the landlord’s not receiving his rent.”

Again, Threshold can – and does – step in here.  If service users go into arrears, the landlord contacts Threshold, and a budget can be worked out.

But Carpendale says:

There’s less and less properties, and less and less people accepting rent supplement.

“The homeless services in Cork, we all do work together – but I do think we are working on very limited budgets and I think it is crisis level.”

She says that new accommodation would have a positive impact,  because currently there is huge competition between those who are on rent supplement, and those who are not, for the same properties.

“Moving people out is the easy bit – sustaining people in their tenancies, engaging them in services… it is a 24-hour a day job.”

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Case Studies

shutterstock_199556258 Tenants Source: Shutterstock

Regina Baylor, advice and accommodation officer in Threshold Cork, told us about two families that they helped from becoming homeless.

The first couple had a site and built a property outside Cork City. They were paying a mortgage and raising children.
Both of them lost their jobs and they had their house repossessed by the bank. They were notified that they were going to become homeless shortly.
We were very lucky to be able to source an unfinished property for them.
We had to advise them first of all to go on the council list, and show the repossession order to the council to go on the list so they could be granted rent allowance and granted a deposit.

Threshold was able to find them an unfurnished home, something which “means a huge amount to children” as it means they “have their own beds, with their own duvet covers, their own curtains”, says Baylor.

  • In the second case, a woman and her partner split up. A year ago, the ex-partner took two of their children to live with him.
In the meantime,, because she didn’t have the children with her, she lost her children’s allowance, she lost her one parent’s payment. She didn’t have money for rent.
Apart from that there were the financial implications. It had an intrinsic impact on her.
Her benefits were stopped, her life just turned around, by one simple thing that this man did.

The mother gained custody of her children by going through the courts – this took six months. She was in arrears and was given a notice of termination by her landlord.

She then had to move into a homeless service, where she worried that her ex-partner might again try to take custody of their children.

If she’d have lost her children again, she’d be in the homeless system.

Baylor contacted a landlord, who, after the woman gave permission for them to tell him her story, reduced the rent down to bring it under the rent cap. He also allowed her to move in without any deposit. Now she is living in a home with affordable rent with her children.

Problems sourcing accommodation

“I’ve been in the property arena since 2006 and I have never in my life seen it as bad as this,” says Baylor. She has a particular problem sourcing accommodation for single people, and with landlords refusing to take rent supplement.

Baylor believes the landlords they work with see their contribution as social responsibility. Some will even contact her if they are concerned about tenants, aside from issues with rent.

She would like to see landlords who accept rent supplement rewarded for this sort of work, by being given tax breaks.

“Some people are very vulnerable, and their stories are horrific,” she says of her job.

And this is their everyday life. And I feel like it would alleviate pressure for them to have a roof over their head. Most people take these things for granted.

Pic: Andrew Bennett via Flickr/Creative Commons

Read all of our Homeless Ireland coverage here>

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