UK social enterprise initiative E3M and Suara Cooperativa from Catalonia recently organised an international exchange about services responding to residential exclusion during Covid-19. E3M member social enterprise P3 from the UK, and Hàbitat3 Foundation & Suara Cooperativa from Catalonia, shared their experiences of how they had supported homeless people in the pandemic
All three organisations agreed that collaboration with the public authorities is an essential element of responding to homelessness. In a virtual meeting, they shared common experience that investment, trust and joint work with the authorities during the pandemic have facilitated an expansion of the care provided, with diverse and multidisciplinary services, responding to a wide variety of needs and profiles, from long-term and young people’s homelessness to people experiencing mental health and substance misuse problems etc.
P3 is an English social enterprise that offers a very wide variety of services linked to tackling homelessness and exclusion across the country, working with local authorities and national Government programmes. The range of people supported is diverse, from families and single people experiencing homelessness, to people with mental health and/or substance misuse to young and older people. With a multidisciplinary team and a holistic view of the person, they not only offer housing, but also provide support in other ways, empowering them in all areas of their lives. Each person has a link worker, who liaises with other services and projects in the community. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, they have expanded their services working with the local authorities, which has given them funds to be able to offer more accommodation and services. In addition, P3 has had investment from SASC, a social investment institution that had provide loans on good terms, which, has made it possible to acquire more accommodation to respond to the homelessness crisis.
One of P3’s projects is ’Keeping Everyone In’ in Derbyshire.They work in collaboration with a wide range of local public bodies (municipalities, police, fire and government) from whom they receive funds, which grew greatly during the pandemic to respond to new needs, within the framework of the campaign “Everyone in”. For example, they rented a hotel with 36 rooms for 3 months with government funds, a project in which 5 local authorities collaborated. In this sense, the pandemic served to further strengthen community work, incorporating new alliances (such as with the police) into the project. They also expanded support for people who were homeless, with a team of street outreach workers complementing the support, reaching inaccessible people. Research carried out about the services they provided, gives evidence
of the work they have done and allows them to justify the funds they receive and apply for.
In this line of public-private collaboration, the Hàbitat3 foundation located in Catalonia and promoted by the “Table of the Third Sector” (a regional social economy alliance) explained that it acquires and cedes housing to social organisation (for the vulnerable people they support) or for rent to people proposed by social services. They obtain housing either through purchasing it, or by renting it. They renovate buildings working with social integration companies (that create employment and training opportunities) and have a firm commitment to their energy efficiency. The plan for the future is to add housing development and transform other types of buildings, such as offices and hotels, into housing.
With the aim of empowering tenants, Hàbitat3 guarantees them support (directly or through the social organisation in which they participate), and engaging them in community work. With the pandemic, they saw an increase in the emotional needs of the people cared for and, in response, offered them intensive support services, both by telephone and in person. They have also worked on providing digital access to families to be able to be operate in the digital world (carry out aid procedures, job search, being connected…) and have advised tenants with contract renewals. In addition, they have an employment and housing support programme
Hàbitat3’s work is based on a very close collaboration with both social organisations and the various public authorities. For example, with Barcelona City Council, they have launched various projects, such
as rehabilitating empty flats that later become rented, or managing tourist flats that are not being used during the pandemic. They also collaborate with the Catalan Housing Agency, which has provided them with housing.
Close work with the administration is also key in the “Primer La Llar” project, owned by Barcelona City Council and managed by Suara and Sant Pere Claver (UTE). . Framed in the Housing First model, it offers direct access to stable housing for an individual, at which point a process of personal recovery, autonomy and social inclusion begins. People receive the support and accompaniment of a multidisciplinary team, formed by the socio-educational support team in close coordination with the expert team in community psychiatry ESMES (Homeless Mental Health Team). The service is intended for people in a situation of long-term homelessness (more than 1 year) and with mental health and substance misuse problems. The person is the centre of attention and decides how, where and when to be supported. There is no predefined length of stay in the project, which depends on and adapts to the needs of the person.
During the pandemic, both face-to-face support was guaranteed, especially to the most vulnerable people, and telematic help used, with access and support in the use of the necessary technological tools (smartphones, Internet, voice assistants, etc.) to guarantee the access to virtual care. Both have been key in the ensuring the well-being of the people: the telematic contact has managed to offer value to the service, and the face-to-face one has guaranteed support services (such as health, access to food, etc.), and to all the necessary procedures (for example, obtaining a digital identity certificate, medical reports that allowed people with mental health problems to walk down the street despite confinement, etc.) Suara’s support service estimates that having safe and adequate housing has allowed people to follow the indications of the lockdown and thus make it easier for none of them to become infected with COVID-19.
It is a statement with which all the participating organisations agree. The pandemic has made more visible what they have been saying for so long: the importance of everyone having decent housing. In addition, all of them are committed to the importance of focusing support and attention on the needs and demands of the people served: the services and projects are adapted to them in their methodology, timing and processes.
In this context, in order to respond to all these elements, in the pandemic and beyond, everyone involved believes that the public-private collaboration of all the organisations is key: administrations, departments, public services and social entities. Joint work and public-private investment make it possible to offer quality services and scale them, key aspects to give structural answers to homelessness, involving all the existing players in holistic strategies.