Homelessness in Harrogate
'Harrogate is lovely'. That’s what everyone says and it’s true of course. I thank the Lord for living in such an amazing place. From the incredible greenery of the Stray, the town atmosphere, the amazing shops and restaurants, to the beautiful buildings in the town, Valley Gardens, the friendliness of the people, the list is endless. We are truly blessed. It’s no wonder that the town always features very highly in the best places to live category of surveys that are conducted from time to time. That’s not to say of course that the town is perfect and like all places it has its problems, but as is so typical of Harrogate the problems are nicely tidied away!
Homelessness is one of those problems but because steps have been taken to remove the immediacy of the problem, on the face of it, it would appear that the problem has been dealt with. That is what I thought before looking into this issue in more detail, and you may have felt the same. I have found though that this is far from being the full picture and that there is still a lot to be done to help the poor and marginalised in our town who have found themselves without a home in which to live.
So I need to give you some background to how the problem is dealt with in Harrogate, the scale of the problem and why our project is needed.
Harrogate Homeless Project (see below) has identified these reasons for people becoming homeless:
- Economic reasons – unemployment, debt, arrears etc.
- Social reasons – relationship breakdown, family breakdown etc.
- Loss of accommodation for other reasons eg anti-social behaviour, landlord reclaiming property, tied accommodation etc.
There are also a core of ‘hard to house’ clients who access Springboard (see below) who have more complex issues and housing histories including entrenched rough sleepers.
In 1991, in response to a growing problem of people sleeping rough, Harrogate ‘Churches together’ set up the ‘Harrogate Homeless Project’ (HHP) on Bower Street. After the stresses and strains of running a 24/7 hostel became too much for the volunteers, it looked like the project might have to fold. However with governmental assistance becoming available through the ‘Supporting People contract’, administered by North Yorkshire County Council, the project continued. The Supporting People contract, however, only covers around 30% of the annual costs, with other significant income being from housing benefit which they claim on behalf of each resident at the hostel. The rest is made up from donations, grants and fundraising. Harrogate Borough Council (HBC) allow the property in Bower Street to be leased on a peppercorn rent. The project is operated through a limited company and a charity.
HHP is run very professionally and has been recently expanded to accommodate 16 people at any one time. This is for people aged over 18. It is the only direct access hostel in the Harrogate district and works closely with other agencies, particularly the Probation, Police and drug and alcohol services. The bedrooms are small but comfortable and they have a very nice living area with Sky TV and a lovely large kitchen (all units have been donated) in which the clients cook their own meals. All food is donated. The hostel is mostly full with an average 98% occupancy rate month on month. People are supposed to stay only temporarily but Liz Hancock, the manager of Harrogate Homeless Project told us in 2012 that “there was a chronic lack of move-on accommodation in the town” and that clients were becoming institutionalised.
HHP also offers a day-centre called Springboard where homeless people can get a shower and have a meal. It operates out of the former caretaker’s hou se in the grounds of Wesley Chapel. Springboard opened in 2009 and has gone from strength to strength. It opens Monday to Friday between 10.00am and 2.00pm including bank holidays, Christmas etc. Springboard provides shower facilities, laundry facilities, daily lunch and refreshments etc. Importantly it also provides support and advice with regard to approach the council about housing issues, sorting out benefits and getting GP appointments etc. It is run by 2 part time staff and a committed team of volunteers and now attracts up to 40 service users a day. Not everyone is homeless, some for example might be ex hostel residents who still need support, assistance, social contact etc but Springboard is the place where rough sleepers go to get warmth, food and get clean. Springboard staff have good contacts with all the other agencies so that they can quickly get help for people in different areas eg alcohol, drugs, benefits, medical issues etc.
The scale of the problem
As mentioned HHP is an emergency hostel. It was never the intention that clients would stay for prolonged periods and so Lifeline has been able to release men from the hostel and give them a place to live in the community.
We understand that upwards of 200 + people each year are presenting at HHP each year as being homeless. That is not to mention those who are sofa-surfing which is still a classification of homelessness as it is not their own accommodation.
No second night out initiative
HHP operates a further emergency provision called ‘No Second Night Out Initiative’ which enables the public and/or agencies to quickly identify people sleeping rough, and for these agencies to have a coordinated response to provide the accommodation and support they need to get people off the streets, hence ensuring no one sleeps on the street for more than one night.
The Council have helped HHP build some additional rooms at the rear of the hostel where people can sleep overnight and can use tea and coffee making facilities. They have to vacate at 8am and can return at 8pm. On average after around 4 days they are provided with an offer of accommodation, quite often a room in the hostel.
Where can Lifeline step in?
Lifeline provides move-on accommodation for those people who have been formerly homeless, to equip them to be able to live independently. We house men at the moment between the ages of 18 and 70. The vast majority of our residents have a local connection. Intensive housing management is provided to ensure residents maintain their accommodation. Lifeline is on call 7 days a week from 8am to 9pm.
Lifeline provides support to monitor and improve physical/mental health, wellbeing and maintain long-term recovery from addiction. Residents are visited at least twice a week, once for their weekly support meeting by two part-time support workers supervised by Carl Good. We agree support plans with all our residents and these will include volunteering and other opportunities including college education. We create work opportunities, such as through a course we organised with Harrogate Town AFC, and at any time full agency interaction is very important.
We hold a fortnightly ‘lunch club’ with our residents at Mowbray Community Church. This enables the residents to appreciate that they are part of more than just a member of one house enabling them to build relationships with Lifeline volunteers and other Lifeline residents, helping to build up their self-confidence and self-esteem, and increase their support network.
Lifeline holds monthly cooking evenings at the houses which helps residents create relationships with Lifeline volunteers, enabling them to develop cooking skills, show them how to cook on a budget and create that opportunity to enjoy a social evening.
We also organise regular trips out for the residents.
We are always on the look-out for volunteers to befriend the residents and take them out, even it is for a coffee and to just ask them how they are.
We have seen many men’s lives change for the better as they leave their old life style behind of unemployment, addiction to drugs, alcohol etc. With our help and support, they leave Lifeline for their own accommodation, with jobs and a support network, feeling happy and optimistic about their futures.