Mushtaq Khan, our Director of Commercial Partnerships recently blogged on the National Housing Federation’s website how Jigsaw Homes Group has been asking itself tough questions about homelessness and may have some of the answers.

Are housing associations part of the solution to homelessness or part of the problem? Do we as a sector actually make homelessness worse, through restricting access to accommodation or charging rents that people can’t afford? Or do we remain true to our social purpose?

Thoughts such as these have been occupying Mushtaq’s mind recently and they’ve been bought into focus by an example that shows the best of us as a sector.

A rough sleeper whose pitch was 100 yards from one of our offices has recently been rehoused due to the persistence of our team. By allocating a property outside usual policy with support paid for ourselves, it has been possible to get someone off the streets. This was not as part of a programme, but as something that staff felt they should be doing.

The tenancy has been sustained for eight months now. It’s not been without its problems – if you’ve been on the streets for three years these things are rarely straightforward. But we’ve done something in line with what we believe.

The crucial question remains – how do circumstances like this happen right in our eyeline, and what are we doing to tackle it?

At Jigsaw Group we have been doing some thinking about how we respond to homelessness. We view homelessness as a critical social challenge that affects a growing number of people, and understand the reasons why it is increasingly a focus of policy at a national, regional and local level. Rough sleeping is only the tip of the iceberg.

We have worked with our boards to try to understand the problem. This has meant extensively mapping out current activity around homelessness and recognising that we end up dealing with the symptoms rather than the causes. We deal with people after the event and do little to help earlier.

The homeless system is itselfas a legalistic, hard-to-understand series of steps with barriers and challenges for most households. There are also people who are outside the system such as younger people, or those from a minority background who do not access services at all. I believe that this dysfunctional system not only does not address homelessness, but actively makes it worse.

So we’ve made some changes to our approach and pleased to say we’ve already had some successes.

We set up a Housing First programme for women ex-offenders, a group that suffers from multiple disadvantage. This has been independently evaluated as having outstanding outcomes in terms of tenancy sustainment. We’ve now extended this programme to victims of domestic abuse.

We’ve also started some longer-term projects. The system itself needs looking at and we’re hoping to work with an academic institution to see how we can be more flexible and responsive. We know that we need to build housing that is truly affordable to local people, as well as enhancing our work on preventing tenancy failure.  We really believe in the Housing First concept and want to further develop our expertise and extend our provision in this area.

We have a long way to go to end homelessness, but remain optimistic about the path we are now on at Jigsaw Group and hope to share many more positive stories in the future.

You can view Mushtaq’s original article here.