How we’re working together to identify triggers for homelessness early on and support people before they reach crisis point.

For decades, homelessness has been seen as a problem that needs to be solved by the local authority. Well the truth is, for most people who become homeless there were triggers that could have been identified much earlier. In Adur and Worthing we don’t have enough social housing to meet demand. We know we need to work differently. Homelessness is everyone’s business and we need to work together to get to people sooner and prevent it.’

Akin Akinyebo, Housing Solutions Manager, Adur & Worthing Councils

Since May 2018, Adur & Worthing Councils have been involved in two multiagency Design Labs. Made up of partners from across the public, voluntary and community sectors, the Labs have been testing ideas that identify and support people at risk of homelessness. They build on research carried out in Winter 2017 with people who have lived experience of homelessness and the professionals who support them.

This is the first in a series of posts about using service design and participatory leadership in our shared mission to prevent homelessness. Here, Akin Akenyebo, Housing Solutions Manager for Adur & Worthing Councils, explains what the Design Labs and ideas are, the impact we’re already seeing, and how to get involved.

Multiagency Design Labs kickstart service development

‘The Design Labs were a coming together of people who shared the same goal and passion: to stop homelessness wherever possible.

‘As a council, we didn’t want to go to our partners and have them hear our views; we wanted them to design a whole new system and way of working with us.

‘We set out on this collaborative approach with partners from across the community, doing service design research and workshops. A smaller number of professionals have been in the Design Labs so that we could move quickly and start testing ideas, to gather data about what works and doesn’t, and then bring more people in.

‘We’ve used design sprints to learn through doing in a controlled, practical way [read more about sprints and their role in system change here]. We’re now coming to the end of a 2-3 month pilot to test and measure impact from a couple of the ideas.’

Two ideas we’re testing

Pilot 1: Asking about housing at Jobcentre Plus

‘The first pilot involves the council’s housing team for single people (adults without children) working more closely with Jobcentre Plus. Together, they’re identifying and supporting people applying for benefits who are also at risk of homelessness.

‘We’re starting small and planning to expand. For the pilot, a Housing Support Advisor is there two days a week to meet with customers. Through this we’re exploring the potential to fully co-locate housing officers - and in the future other professionals - at Jobcentre Plus.

‘Where possible we aim to support people early on. We’re asking about their housing now and where they see it in five years, so they’re able to plan for the future.

‘We’re also testing shadowing between Jobcentre and Housing staff and providing information about housing support and homelessness triggers directly to customers on leaflets and the Jobcentre’s TV screens.’

Pilot 2: Getting to families’ first point of contact

‘The second pilot is about developing a multiagency homelessness prevention pathway for families, using IPEH’s (Integrated Prevention and Earliest Help) holistic assessment as the first point of contact.

‘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 of 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, and they’ll still have just one shared action plan with housing and IPEH.’

6 Signs we’re having an impact

The Design Labs are gathering data and measuring impact through the pilots to share at an upcoming Preventing Homelessness event (more information at the end of this post). Here, Akin underlines the importance of taking time to celebrate progress.

‘Our shared mission of preventing homelessness represents a huge change and challenge for how services support communities. We’re all doing this at a time of increased demand and limited resources, often working with issues beyond our control.

‘In this context, our vision can feel far away. Marking progress along the way and knowing we’re constantly learning and developing helps us keep going. Our approach to change is collaborative and continuous. This means we all own the solutions and they are malleable; we can mould and adapt them to changing situations and challenges.’

This conversation about impact, learning and looking forward is one we want to start in this blog series and open up in the Preventing Homelessness event. Read on for 6 signs of impact Akin has seen through the research and development process: impact for customers, for partnership working, and in the council itself.

1. Better working relationships across the system

‘When you work in the public sector with limited resources, you often have intractable problems. No one service has the solution so it’s through relationships you figure out how best to move it forward.

‘We’ve built relationships through this process and because you have that, you have the trust to do something together. We’re going beyond seeing each other as having separate roles and responsibilities, we’re now talking as colleagues, “Let’s do this together. Here’s what we can bring, how does that work for you?”.

‘Through the Labs we can see we achieve better outcomes for our customers by pulling together. But making time to invest in this work is a challenge. I wouldn’t deny that it’s been a very, very hectic few months. More people have wanted to be involved but there are limited resources, including time.

‘We’ve only got through this because of the determination and desire of everyone in the Design Labs to see it as successful, the commitment has been fantastic.’

2. Preventing evictions

‘Under the new Homelessness Reduction Act, the law says people need to be assessed as at risk of homelessness if they are likely to become homeless within 56 days. We think this is too short a period to have an impact. We want to see them way before that.

‘This is starting to happen. For example, through the IPEH pilot our housing officer was asked to support a woman with one child living in a two bedroom property. She was heavily in debt from a gambling habit and her landlord was thinking of evicting them.

‘In the past this person would have come to the council’s housing team when she’d been evicted. Getting in earlier, our housing officer could advise her on support for gambling, recommend downsizing to a one-bed property, and reach an agreement with the landlord so they wouldn’t go to court.

‘We’re also testing monthly meetings between Lab member Worthing Homes (housing association) and the council housing team, to discuss and support families at risk of losing their tenancy. Together, we’re linking people in with the right support to prevent this happening, putting in place actions that will see fewer cases going to court.’

3. Recruited housing officers with lived experience of homelessness

‘When we started speaking to people with lived experience of homelessness through our research we realised this work isn’t only about empathy and offering a solution.

‘We’ve all done housing for donkeys years, but how many of us know what it’s like to be in their shoes? We think we know but we actually don’t. Sometimes, it’s about being able to walk in their shoes and understand where the pinch is.

‘At the council, we’ve now recruited two officers who have lived experience of homelessness to work with us. It’s not the only way, but it’s one way to understand and help people make the choices they want to make.’

4. Customers being treated as a ‘whole person’

‘Homelessness prevention for a long time has been defined in terms of complying with the law. Through the research people told us clearly, ‘we want to be seen as a whole person’. They are the issue, not the law. Their personal story, their personal solution.

‘The way we’re supporting them through the pilots is to get a view of the whole situation, walk with them, come up with ideas they are happy with, work to solve those issues, including linking them in with other services. The law almost needs to be a fall back.

‘Rather than pass the customer from one agency to another, we’re coming together to work with that person, to give them realistic options. Our customers benefit when we see them as a whole. It always reveals better outcomes.’

5. More informed and connected professionals

‘We’re learning how much professionals want to advise people about homelessness and housing options, but how little they know about the world of housing today.

‘For example, some professionals believe people can only go to the council when they've been evicted by bailiffs. But at this point our housing team can do nothing to prevent it, they’re already homeless.

‘We’ve been getting out to teams in health and social care to explain what the council can and can’t do, what housing is available, what triggers of homelessness to look out for. Through the Design Labs we’re also working on improving a service directory app created by the Adur & Worthing Digital Team, helping professionals easily identify the right service to refer their clients to.

‘The housing team are getting more calls from professionals than ever before. This is good and bad, the phones never stop ringing! But it’s telling us professionals want to know more so they can manage customers expectations and direct them appropriately.’

6. Greater customer experience and job satisfaction

‘There’s been a huge change among the housing officers who do prevention. There’s more joy in helping people solve their problems than in telling them what we can’t do for them. We’re getting a lot more compliments than we’ve seen in a long time, and that's rare working in homelessness.’

Getting involved

A huge thank you to the Design Lab members who have invested their time, energy and ideas in this collaborative work. They are from: Adur & Worthing Councils, Jobcentre Plus, Kent, Surrey & Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company, Sanctuary Housing, Southdown Housing, Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust, West Sussex County Council, Worthing Churches Homeless Projects, Worthing Homes, United Response, YMCA DownsLink Group. And thank you to all the organisations, professionals and customers who were part of the research phase that started this.

If you work for an organisation in Adur and Worthing, are interested in learning what comes out of the pilots and want to be part of a conversation about what’s next for preventing homelessness, we’d love to see you at our event in December 2018. Contact Amanda for more information and to book your place.

Here’s some of what we aim to share, discuss and develop together:

  • Stories and journeys of customers and professionals involved in the pilots; related costs and projected savings across services of prevention initiatives
  • Progress on our long-term goals of: reducing the number of people becoming homeless; increasing the number of people who have a plan for their housing and are supported with their wellbeing
  • Systems, processes and initiatives around early identification we’ve tested that other professionals can adopt, adapt, and opt into.

Thank you for reading. This is the first of a series of posts on our mission to prevent homelessness. Next time we’ll share learning and advice on running multiagency collaborative service development from the experience of our Design Labs.

Preventing Homelessness is a SameRoom project, bringing people together around a shared challenge to create, test and grow solutions that work for our communities. We use human-centred, collaborative approaches, listening to and designing with the people who live in Adur and Worthing, our staff and members, our partners and peers.