If You Build It, They Will Come

This title, as any film buff will know, comes from a film starring Kevin Costner, in which he builds a baseball pitch miles from anywhere, in the belief that, if he does so, people will turn up. Which, of course, they do.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I believe in the inherent good nature of the great majority of humanity. Moreover, it’s a belief that is supported by experience, including over 40 years in practical projects in the voluntary sector in which those on the receiving end in society were able to solve their own problems. In the most notable of these, those who were homeless and/or unemployed, men and women, were able to build their own homes. At which point, the response from some of those not in these situations was, “If they could build their own homes, they wouldn’t be homeless.” Something that rather ignored the fact that it wasn’t ability they lacked but the  resources.

The point about this approach is that, like most other things in life, you start from where people are and not where you’d like them to be and that you don’t judge and penalise them for the situation that they find themselves in. How can you when you probably know very little about them? Which brings me to the matter of today’s blog about a scheme in Manchester where, three years ago, Andy Burnham the Mayor, made, what might have seemed, a fanciful commitment, to find homes for 200 of the city’s most entrenched rough sleepers. Crucially, neither addiction, a criminal record or history of eviction were to be a bar to the tenancy. Neither did applicants have to get “clean” first.

Despite some early scepticism, 356 long term rough sleepers were given a roof over their heads along with “wrap around” support. The result has been that 79% of the tenants are still housed, that 45 of them have started training or are in employment while 133 have had help with mental health problems and 97 have made use of alcohol or other drug services. In cases where the project has not worked well, tenants have been given “managed moves” instead of being evicted. Three years down the line and the scheme has become one of the UK’s most successful homelessness projects. From the initial expectation, from one of the partners in the organisation’s financial management, that at least half the tenancies would be expected to fail, the project is one of their “shining stars”. The Mayor is quoted as saying that many people now have safe, warm homes and the support that they need and, as a result, can look forward to a positive future. It just shows what can be done when there’s a will to do so; something that we’re all witness to if we just look around.

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