For decades, homelessness has been seen as a problem that needs to be solved by the local authority. But in Adur and Worthing, as elsewhere, we don’t have enough social housing to meet demand.
So we know we need to work differently, especially when for most people who become homeless, there are triggers that could be identified earlier.
Homelessness is everyone’s business and we need to work - across the sectors - to reach people sooner to prevent it.’
Akin Akinyebo, Housing Solutions Manager, Adur & Worthing Councils

Working with local partners, Adur & Worthing Councils have been testing out ideas that help identify and support earlier people at risk of homelessness.  Here, Akin Akinyebo, Housing Solutions Manager at the councils, explains more about the work of the Design Labs and what their impact has been.

Multiagency collaboration on ‘sprint designs’

In late 2017 we carried out research with people who have experienced homelessness and the professionals who support them. Through this we identified several potential areas where early contact could be made with those who are in danger of becoming homeless.

With that information, we didn’t want to just go to our partners and tell them what was needed; we wanted them to help design a whole new system and way of working with us.So in May this year, Adur & Worthing Councils set up two Design Labs to start testing ideas with a small group of professionals,  helping us all to learn quickly what works and what doesn’t.  

We decided to use design sprints which are a time-constrained process to understanding, exploring, collaborating and testing ideas in a very practical way.

We are now coming to the end of a 2-3 month pilot to test and measure impact from a couple of the best ideas that came out of the Design Labs.

Pilot 1: Asking about housing at Jobcentre Plus

This involves the council’s Housing team for single people (adults without children) working more closely with Jobcentre Plus identifying and supporting people applying for benefits who are also at risk of homelessness.

For the pilot, a Housing Support Advisor is there at Jobcentre Plus two days a week. Customers are asked about their housing now and where they see it in five years time, to help them plan for a future whatever that may be.

The pilot has started small, but is planning to expand. Potentially in the future housing officers may be based there full-time, with other professionals also becoming involved.We’re also testing shadowing between Jobcentre and Housing staff and providing information directly to customers - through leaflets and  Jobcentre’s TV screens - about housing support and the triggers for homelessness.

Pilot 2: Getting to families’ first point of contact

The second pilot is about developing a multiagency homelessness prevention pathway for families, adopting the holistic assessment used by the County Council’s Integrated Prevention and Earliest Help (IPEH) team.

Through the Design Lab, we realised professionals at IPEH see a lot of the families that go on to get social care support. They tend to be some of the most vulnerable in the community, and it’s likely some will have housing issues.

So, we’ve based a housing officer with the IPEH team two days a week. We’re encouraging professionals to identify triggers for homelessness in all their clients. It could be someone who is in debt, gambling, experiencing domestic violence or violence more generally.

We then include measures in people’s action plans to prevent them losing their homes. If there’s an immediate risk, the housing officer will work with the customer, but they’ll still have just one shared action plan with housing and IPEH.

We’ve found this way of working to be inclusive and engaging, and it’s allowed us to think far less about organisational boundaries (who does what) and much more about what our service users need.  The SameRoom team have created the space and time for us to think differently and feel able to try some new things out.

Even quite simple and sensible changes can be resisted from past experience, but we have created a much more ‘can do’ culture across agencies, which is a breath of fresh air.