This week I had the opportunity to visit Shelter NI’s SLATE Project in Omagh. The SLATE (Supported Living, Advice and Tenant Engagement) Project provides support to young people aged 16 to 25 who are homeless or are at risk of experiencing homelessness and who have medium to high support needs. These needs could be around challenges with mental health, addictions or relationships.
SLATE is a unique StepUp/StepDown model designed to provide a range of support and accommodation options to eligible young people referred into the project. Young people enter the service through StepUp which offers fully furnished self-contained accommodation with tailored support to meet their individual needs. They can remain in their flat for up to 2 years or until they are ready to move on to independent living in accommodation of their own choice.
The StepDown element offers a further period of 2 years support for those young people moving on to permanent tenancies in the community by building on their independence, experience and skills gained in StepUp and thereby preventing or significantly reducing the risk of a breakdown in their new tenancy. The young people supported by the project receive support in developing life skills; budgeting; finding suitable training programmes or employment; and assistance in claiming benefits. Ultimately, SLATE aims to facilitate these young people to live independently.
It was great to meet with Area Manger Stella Le Poidevin and some of her staff team to hear about the work they do. The project has recently opened a newly renovated facility with money provided through the Supporting People’s Provider Innovation Fund (PIF). A modern new kitchen has been installed which allows for cooking demonstrations and some friendly competition in the form of ‘Come Dine with Me’ style events.
The open plan design of the space and sitting areas is warm and welcoming. A private room for counselling has been set aside and they have a lovely outdoor space at the back of the project. It is easy to see the project as a place where friendships and community can be built. It is clear that Shelter NI has done an excellent job in refurbishing the facilities which will be of benefit to both staff and service users in the years to come. It is a great example of how PIF funding can be used effectively.
From speaking to the staff, it is evident that the rising cost of living is increasingly posing challenges. Rising energy costs are placing pressure both on services in terms of heat and electricity as well as on service users, who can face difficulties in obtaining the essentials they need within limited budgets. We are hearing of these kinds of difficulties from our members right across NI, and with no let up in sight this situation may worsen with negative consequences for everyone involved. Our political leaders need to respond to the ongoing cost of living crisis we are experiencing.
In hearing about the work of SLATE, what struck me was the person-centred nature of the support provided by staff. Support is tailored for each person individually depending on what their needs are. This requires flexibility from the staff, who have to develop an array of different skills to provide effective support to those they are working with. There is no question that providing the person-centred support the staff are giving comes with challenges, but it is evident that these staff are making a real difference in the lives of many of these young people.
I want to thank the SLATE NI team in Omagh for having me. If you are interested in the SLATE project or in the broader work of Shelter NI generally, do check out their website and give them a follow on their Facebook page.
Policy and Public Affairs Officer at Homeless Connect