Reaching communities

Mark Lawrence travels to Birmingham to meet a medium-sized housing association providing a large amount of specialist services to residents. What can other organisations learn from its multifarious approach?

Smaller associations get little recognition when conversation around the good work of housing associations piques. But it is often these that pack the biggest punch.

One such organisation, that consists of a housing association, a registered charity and commercial arm, is Trident Group.

As a Group they provide services to around 8,000 people, with Trident Housing providing over 3,400 homes; and Trident Reach providing floating support to those who are homeless, those who suffer mental health problems, those who have suffered domestic abuse, and those who require specific support such as young people, older people, and minority groups.

Part of this offer is all about providing supported housing to “disadvantaged individuals who have multiple and complex needs”, including those with mental health problems or those suffering or have suffered from domestic abuse.

The Group is especially proud of its homelessness offer. “We have adapted it to be flexible to the needs of the city,” says Helen Litherland, the Group’s Executive Lead for Housing, Care, and Support.

“Where we historically had a service where people came into it, were given a needs and risk assessment, a key worker and outcomes to achieve, it can be pretty overwhelming for someone coming into a hostel setting for the first time.

“So, we sectioned off a piece of the hostel which had its own entrance. It was very much ‘come in and get a feel for the environment’. It was aimed at encouraging people to try it and then get them to try the main service.”

It was this “light touch” approach that encouraged the group to introduce a couple’s access to remove some of the barriers preventing people seeking help.

“People that formed friendships and became co-dependent could access hostel accommodation, but rarely at the same time dependent on bed space,” says Litherland.

“What we offer is rooms for couples to encourage people to come in, but not lose their support network.”

Though often overlooked, pets play a big role in supporting those forced to live on the street. Accommodating both owner and pet had helped increase the number of rough sleepers seeking access to Trident Reach.

“They have all gone through trauma, but this is about allowing them to put that to one side, come in with a partner or dog and help them come through that,” says Jas Samra, Senior Community Safety Officer at Trident Group.

“Dealing with the trauma is then what we put out specialised support workers. That was the big chance for us, when we accepted them.”

But Samra admits there are problems with the approach. As the pathway becomes increasingly sought after, there becomes less accommodation suitable for pets, and many staff show initial concerned about “scary looking” dogs being brought in.

It is the first time the word ‘pathway’ is used, but Housing and Reach services working closely together to give rise to these pathways forms a crucial part of the Trident Group Mantra.

“When transitioning into general needs housing, we ensure that we identify any ongoing support needs that are required,” Litherland explains. “When you are in a supported environment, people are cocooned in a package of support.

“It is about being able to sustain that when they move into the general needs housing.

“One of the things with the interconnectedness is that people didn’t have to retell their story when they move into the general need – it all filtered through.”

This interconnectedness means the Group can work with tenants to increase or decrease support when needed. A lack of change also means there are fewer disruptions in the journey to getting back on track, but also that the support is always there should there be a relapse.

Litherland and Samra say this helps the two arms of the business “identify issues sooner and stop tenancy breakdowns or breaches”.

Talk turns to some of the issues that comes with providing services to BME communities, including tackling female genital mutilation (FGM).

Samra says that while “we don’t come across it often”, the partnership working in the West Midlands is vital to combating the practice and ensuring all agencies work to stop it from happening.

“I tell our Locality Officers, ‘get yourself known in your patch,’ because should there be anything in an individual’s path later on, housing will hold a key bit of the jigsaw.

“We hold a lot of information. We are not always necessarily needed now, but it might be key further down the line, and that is why those relationships are so important.

“We work with the local policing team, local mental health team, local partnership meetings with Bishops. It is definitely a fundamental part of what we do every day.”

Litherland adds: “Achieving the needs of an individual is only going to be done through partnership working. Housing is the link to health, education or any support needs, and it is important that housing is around the table contributing to other people’s agendas and strategies.

Trident Group’s efforts are bearing fruit, with reduced numbers of rough sleepers, those with mental health conditions supported into secure tenancies, and domestic abuse survivors receiving the support they need.

But what needs to be done to ensure these services can, at worst, simply continue or, at best, make a more substantial impact?

For Trident Reach, the short-term contracts handed out to aid the delivery of services can sometimes fall victim to “changing landscapes”, which increases uncertainty.

“The ability of other agencies and partners to commit to the partnerships is another challenge,” says Samra.

“Other agencies have their resources limited so some of the add on value gets restricted. Partnership working is key, but the ability to really commit to that is important.”

Samra says that the other partners around the table could do more so that “it doesn’t all just sit with housing”.

She adds: “It is just keeping on telling partners how to do it.

“Everyone has their own specialism – tap into them to help that individual. Don’t try and do it all on your own.

“We have done the biggest part, taking them off the street, now let’s get everyone to tap in and help sustain their tenancy.”