Cross-sector approach to tackling homelessness in Essex

A dynamic and ambitious countywide approach to reduce homelessness and increase the supply and quality of housing for vulnerable people. We recognised there is a housing crisis that significantly affects Essex.


What went in

  • Priority area addressed: A dynamic and ambitious countywide approach to reduce homelessness and increase the supply and quality of housing for vulnerable people. We recognised there is a housing crisis that significantly affects Essex. In 2018 Essex had 1,948 households in Temporary Accommodation, an increase of 46 per cent in 10 years. Rough sleeping has fallen in 2019 to 85 individuals, but this is 75 per cent higher than in 2010. There were also a number of particularly vulnerable people who are in our residential care establishments who could live in independent accommodation. Essex County Council has assessed a need for an additional 530 homes with onsite care for older people.
  • Budget: £49,000
  • Other resource needed: In addition to the recruitment of a consultancy to develop the 4 main projects: Hospital discharge housing protocol, Prisoner release housing protocol, development of accommodation pathways between County and Districts, and an affordable accommodation plan for the county. We have also needed the support and buy in from external partners to turn ideas into reality, particularly the district housing partners in producing the work plans, protocols and governance.
  • Time taken to achieve outcomes: The programme was envisaged to last 12 months from September 2019 to September 2020 however, following the impact of the COVID Pandemic the programme was extended by 3 months until the end of December 2020.

What came out

Deliverables:

  • Hospital Discharge Housing Protocol – Working with Health, Housing and Voluntary sector partners in the development of a protocol covering 3 Hospitals in Essex and the unitary authority of Southend on Sea.
  • Prison Release Housing Protocol – Mainstreaming the recently developed protocol including the establishment of both the governance and the scoping of ex offender housing needs in Essex and subsequent joined up plan moving forward
  • Affordable Accommodation – Taking forward the existing collaborative work with the National Housing Federation and Housing Associations on the growth of affordable and social housing in Essex with the aim to reduce homelessness and to develop a greater number of properties in Essex that people moving on from homelessness are able to rent.
  • Accommodation Pathways - Matching the need for housing for vulnerable people supported by adult social care and children & family services with the provision of housing within districts: for vulnerable groups. The consultant established collaborative working across the county between adult social care commissioners and districts to facilitate a deeper understanding of needs and the potential pipeline of homes to meet those needs. The vulnerable groups included people with learning or physical disabilities, people facing mental health issues care leavers and young people. 

Difference made/indication of success:

  • Hospital Discharge Housing Protocol The Essex hospital discharge housing protocol was developed with health, housing and voluntary sector partners This protocol will:
    • reduce health inequalities for homeless and rough sleepers in Essex
    • reduce bed blocking in hospitals freeing up much needed bed and reducing health costs
    • reduce the numbers of Essex patients who end up homeless at housing offices.

Two services; one in Southend Hospital commissioned by Southend on Sea Council and one covering Basildon and Broomfield hospitals commissioned from Essex County Council were brought together. These services are now coordinated and provide a seamless service independent of what hospital or housing authority the patient is resident off, the full impact of these changes will not be fully known until at least July 2021.

  • Prison Release Housing Protocol – The development of a needs and supply assessment of the housing requirements for ex-offenders in Essex that will assist in the planning of  ex offender accommodation moving forward so reducing the number of ex-offenders that end up rough sleeping in Essex. The impact of this plan will be monitored over the next few years along with the numbers of ex-offenders released from prison who end up rough sleeping.
  • Affordable Accommodation – the development of a plan between developers, planners and housing teams in Essex aimed at increasing the number of affordable accommodations available to rent.
  • Accommodation Pathways The development of a commissioning group including commissioners from Essex County Council (Tier 1 authority) and districts (Tier 2 authorities) housing teams and an action plan and protocol, promoting joined up working between organisations in relation to those with mental health, older people, children and care leavers moving into and out of supported accommodations.

Executive summary

Our project was developed to reduce and prevent homelessness and rough sleeping in Essex by bringing the sector together, rolling out and monitoring the work from the Essex Prevents partnership including the Prison release housing and Hospital discharge protocols and deliver change using our Data analytical work on homelessness.

The project has looked at 4 key pieces of work that brought partners together to develop local solutions for local problems and make the lives better for those some of the county’s most vulnerable citizens. This partnership created interventions that worked that created ownership of the interventions by partners, as well creating strong inter organisational relationships and trust.

The project also helped citizens to live independently by joining up a detailed understanding of the housing needs of vulnerable people by adult social care, with clear plans for a pipeline of how housing developments would meet those needs with housing authorities across the county.

The expert consultant fully supported and was the engine room in helping partners to deliver these projects through a systems leadership approach that creates long lasting partnerships.

Challenge and context

Essex is well connected to London with a mix of rural, coastal, market towns and urban centres. It has an extremely varied housing market from high priced towns close to the capital, to the coastal north east with high levels of deprivation and a large population of older people. Essex has 1.8m residents and is the second largest county authority in the country with 12 districts and two unitary authorities. We have some very affluent areas close to London, Brentwood and Chelmsford and also the area ranked top nationally for social deprivation in Jaywick. Homelessness and rough sleeping may not be large in the context of numbers, certainly not compared to large cities such as London but we have the issue of a large geography and little or no support services, limited or no hostel beds mean for example most Essex ex-offenders released without accommodation, find rough sleeping is the only answer.

The biggest challenge faced during the lifetime of the project was the COVID pandemic that swept the nation in Spring 2020. Though this put our work back 3 months due to the initial lockdown meaning partners’ staff resources were focused on other more important projects such as the governments ‘Everyone In’ strategy. However, the pandemic has also shown the importance of the sector coming together to solve deep rooted issues that have been ingrained within society. The work of our project has been integral in developing trust and understanding among partners as well as becoming central to the Essex homelessness and rough sleeper recovery strategies as we come out of the pandemic.

What we did

We delivered change in Essex through partnerships and networks: Essex Housing Officers Group, Essex Homelessness Group, working alongside South Essex Housing Group and the ‘Essex Prevents’ workstream. We learnt together, and we will continue to develop together. We have strengthened housing partnerships’ relationships to Essex Leaders and Chief Executives, and Essex Partners, and have ensured learning was shared at a corporate level as well as within housing departments.

The difference we made

The full benefits of this work have yet to be accounted for, the delays caused by the COVID Pandemic have meant that the full analysis of the benefits have not as yet taken place. However, the impact of this work can be seen not just in the predicted reductions in homelessness and rough sleeping within Essex but also in the strength of the partnerships created over the last 16 months. Feedback from commissioners and districts, all reported back positive improvements in the working relationships in Essex that has been beneficial to their work.

What's next

The consultant helped partners to deliver these projects through a systems leadership approach that has helped to create long lasting partnerships. The advisors built on the current relationships developed by Essex Prevents with education, health, housing, voluntary sector and criminal justice partners, alongside the long-established Essex Housing Officers’ Group and South Essex Housing Group, including the unitary councils. Over the last 16 months we have seen culture change, data mapping, system leadership, review of governance, market shaping and programme management.

The advisor has helped facilitate the development of proactive partnerships by delivering the vital projects. These will help Essex going forward to continue to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping within the county and create dynamic innovative solutions that improve the lives of our communities in a sustainable way with the ultimate aim that Essex adopts a holistic approach in its housing and homelessness ambitions.

Lessons learned

The biggest lesson leant from our work was the commissioning time between confirmation of contract and for the consultants being operational. Internal governance required under procurement systems meant that it took over 4 months to bring on the consultants. In previous funding rounds the consultants had been supplied to local authorities directly via LGA and therefore not required a procurement process.

Cross sector approaches do work and are essential in tackling the problems that are endemic within homelessness and rough sleeping. If these issue could be tackled simply by one organisation then they would already be solved as such the answer to these issues is in joined up work and a cross sector approach.


Contact

Rod Cullen – Housing Growth Lead (Homelessness & Rough Sleeping) Rod.Cullen@Essex.gov.uk