The APG on Homelessness held its latest meeting at the Assembly this afternoon. The meeting opened with Rachel Marshall, Policy and Good Practice Manager for the Frontline Network, outlining the findings of the networks 2022 Frontline Worker Survey. This survey recorded responses from 1182 Frontline workers across the UK.
Members then heard from three frontline staff based in NI: James Jennings, Manager of the Men’s Hostel for Northwest Methodist Mission; Brian McLaughlin, Floating Support Officer for Triangle Housing; and Amanda Sewell, Chaplain to the Salvation Army’s Thorndale Family Centre in Belfast.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the meeting:
- Many frontline staff are facing higher demand for services and are struggling amidst the cost-of-living crisis. The UK wide Frontline Network survey found that 78% of respondents are facing increased levels of demand for services in the last twelve months. Eighty-six percent of frontline staff indicated that they thought that services needed additional support to cope with rising costs. The frontline staff working on the ground in NI noted the ongoing challenges staff are facing around pay and conditions and the importance of ensuring the sector has adequate resources going forward.
- Frontline staff are frustrated about the continuing rise in housing waiting lists and stressed the importance of moving towards preventing homelessness before it happens rather than responding to it after the fact. Brian McLaughlin in his presentation highlighted the fact that many of the issues we see today are like the ones which were present back in 1994. He emphasised the importance of making the strategic shift to preventing homelessness and the valuable work that the floating support team at Triangle do in helping to prevent homelessness.
- Increasing numbers of clients being supported by the homelessness sector have complex needs. Amanda Sewell in her presentation pointed to a wide range of needs amongst residents at Thorndale including challenges with mental and physical health; substance use issues; domestic abuse; and language barriers. Staff must be able to provide support to families facing a wide range of challenges which can stretch staff. James Jennings in his presentation highlighted the difficulties residents can have in accessing emergency care. He pointed to the fact that some residents have faced waits of over twelve hours before being able to be seen. This can be especially challenging for people who are struggling with addictions. This highlighted the connection between homelessness and health and how the challenges impacting health services often spill over to have a negative impact on homelessness services as well.
- Accessing housing in both the social and private rented sectors is proving increasingly challenging. With rents rising fast in the private sector and a shortage of housing in the social sector, the system can become silted with households finding themselves unable to find suitable move-on accommodation. This can pose difficulties for frontline staff trying to support people in their services who may find themselves in temporary accommodation for two or more years. Increasing housing supply will be crucial if we are to see housing waiting lists come down.
- Frontline staff in the homelessness sector are incredibly dedicated to the work they do. In all three presentations given by NI based frontline staff, the dedication and commitment to making a difference in the lives of people at risk of or experiencing homelessness was abundantly. Brian had worked in the sector since 1994, working in a wide range of services before coming to Triangle. James had been working for the Northwest Methodist Mission for 22 years. Amanda, as Chaplain of the Thorndale Salvation Army hostel, praised staff working for the service and highlighted the heart that staff working at Thorndale have for the people they are working with.
This meeting of the APG highlighted how fortunate we are to have so many high-quality staff working in the homelessness sector here. Too often, the invaluable work of the sector goes unrecognised partly because staff in the sector are simply getting on with the job of providing the best support, they can to those they are working with. Frontline staff are going above and beyond in the work they do, and they make a real difference to people each and every day.
However, if we are going to take the journey to end homelessness, frontline staff working in the sector need to be effectively resourced and supported. This session highlighted just some of the areas where we need to see change.