I had an enthralling morning at West Berkshire Council’s offices last week meeting with a wide group of organisations and agencies to find an innovative approach to helping people with particular and complex needs. These are the multiple needs that often lie behind every case of homelessness. They include drug and alcohol abuse, relationship breakdown and mental illness.
Making Every Adult Matter (MEAM) is a part lottery funded national organisation that combines charities working with substance abuse, homelessness and those in the criminal justice system. It brings together teams in areas like West Berkshire to focus like a laser beam on the few really challenging cases whose chaotic lives are in a spiral of decline. Beyond the compassion we should all feel for these people there is the cost. The cycle that takes them from rough sleeping to dependency on the NHS, to prison in a sort of revolving door of agencies means each case costs the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds.
With leadership from the Council there is a groundswell of support in West Berkshire to help tackle homelessness and it’s good to see same level of care and concern amongst statutory bodies. Our local Police are particularly keen on this approach. They are often the first on the scene and they know the rough sleeping community well. The Council's housing team are also determined to make this work. Through their efforts many rough sleepers are found accommodation but, like all involved in this work, they find this hard-to-help group who need a more joined up approach.
Led by MEAM Local Network Manager George Garrad, we looked at the barriers which make it so difficult for these individuals to access help here in West Berkshire and then at possible solutions. Linda from a London drug and alcohol charity called Build on Belief, talked about her years on the streets and how she survived a 32 year drug habit. It was so powerful to hear how she felt then about 'the system' and how difficult it was to access help.
Good things that came out of the meeting: putting names to faces; networking - allowing people to see what else is out there; perhaps the start of a new way of working, more flexible, more immediate, more tailored to the complex issues that often lie behind cases of homelessness. Watch this space and contact me via http://richardbenyon.com if you want to be involved.