Homelessness to Sanctuary and Independence Pt.2: our new Hilltops development

As we explored the pathways from homelessness to independence through our Fresh Start policy, we will now look at how we apply those policies to the practical work we do. Working with homeless clients brings with it a series of complex and challenging issues so it is important to adhere to certain principles and philosophies that guide us in our interactions.

A major component of these principles is our belief in providing the best possible start (and outcome) to people moving on into supported housing. We believe that investing in people is the best possible approach when trying to create optimal solutions for our society’s most vulnerable individuals.

The aspiration of homeless people is to have a home of their own and Wirral Ark helps people to achieve this. We use a ‘staircase’ model of housing where we provide a range of housing options that offer the type and level of housing support people need to reach their housing goal. Client journeys can involve several moves starting in an emergency night shelter, short-stay hostel, and progressing to semi-independent shared houses, move on housing, and finally independent housing.

Clients progress through our housing projects until they are ‘housing ready’ and can access independent living.  Clients are assessed for their suitability for each housing project by experienced Support Workers and will only be progressed and placed in accommodation when they are able to succeed.

That’s why we’re delighted to have planning permission for our new supported housing development, Hilltops in Prenton Road West.  We’re now in the refurbishment phase and the hope is that we’ll be ready to open this new facility in the next 4 weeks.

Hilltops will provide new homes to people on the pathway to independence and our fresh start policy means we’ll be investing in this property to make it as comfortable and as welcoming as possible – both in the communal areas and investing in furniture, household goods and other essential items in each individual apartment.

What type of housing is Hilltops?

Hilltops is classed as ‘move on’ housing which is defined as the final stage of housing before ‘moving out’ of homelessness services and into independent housing. Residents will have progressed through homeless services and shown the requisite level of independence to be placed in Hilltops. Hilltops aims to do two things:

  • Prepare people for independent living – improving tenancy skills, budgeting, cooking skills, pre-tenancy planning and support to access community resources and enter employment, education or training.
  • Increase access to independent housing – by building close relationships with private sector landlords, lettings agencies and housing associations

Hilltops is not a place for people with chaotic behaviours relating to substance misuse, offending behaviour and anti-social behaviour. These are ‘high support’ needs and our other housing projects provide this type of support, e.g. Mary Cole House hostel. 

Who will be housed at Hilltops?

Single male and female adults from the Wirral who have been MainStay’ assessed (Wirral Council’s support tool) and who have demonstrated their readiness and compatibility for move on housing.

What is the assessment process?

The MainStay risk assessment is carried out by registered MainStay Assessment Providers (Wirral Council, Wirral Ark and YMCA) and is used to assess an individual’s eligibility for homeless services and to identify the type of housing and level of support they need; it is continually updated. We will review prospective residents’ MainStay assessments and will carry out further checks so as to verify someone’s suitability and readiness for Hilltops.

We will then meet face-to-face with the resident to carry out a compatibility assessment. If accepted they will be housed at the project, if they are not suitable they will be referred to another housing project appropriate for their needs.

What type of support will residents receive?

Support staff will be based at the building during office hours Monday to Friday. Linda Malone, the project lead, will work with all residents to provide support with housing and tenancy management such as support to help people:

• Set-up and maintain their home

• Manage safety and security of their accommodation

• Enhance their health and wellbeing

• Build on life skills such as cooking, cleaning and budgeting

• Apply for benefits and address debt

• Access support services

• Get advice and advocacy in relation to housing and tenancy matters

• Participate in community life

Residents will be able to stay up to 12 months and will be supported in their resettlement and move-on goals whether that is to access the private rented sector or social housing. Residents have an On Call Management number to contact in the event of an incident which is 24/7.

How will we communicate with the local community?

We have already starting publishing information on our social media channels which we will continue using to provide updates on the project. We also produce an annual report which details what activities go on at Hilltops. We will consult with representatives from the residents group on getting the project up and running. We have also put a call out to the community for volunteers to help with the garden which has been a huge success and thanks must go to Royden Revolve Rotary Club for organising.

What happens if a resident breaks the rules or causes a disturbance to the local community?

Residents are under a license agreement which is different to a tenancy agreement and does not give them ‘exclusive possession’ of their accommodation in the way a tenancy agreement would. This gives Wirral Ark the power to remove anyone unsuitable for Hilltops and place them elsewhere with immediate effect. The timescales of the eviction will depend on the reason for asking them to leave. We have the right to ask a resident to leave immediately if this is required.

What happens next?

We are currently working on a refurbishment of the Hilltops property. The building was formerly used as a care home for the elderly and although it was kept in good condition, we have had to commission building works to be carried out to bring it up to date.

We will be furnishing each apartment with white goods including fridge freezers, microwaves, electric cookers and kettles as well as essential household items such as beds, bedding, chairs, sofas and dining room tables.

We also plan on working with local providers in the Wirral area to provide training and educational services at the scheme.

We hope to open Hilltops with a socially distanced launch event and will be releasing further details on our social channels in the coming weeks.