Commonweal launches first project outside England with East Belfast Mission
‘You’re Home’, a new property-based pilot project providing affordable housing and tenancy support to homeless people across east Belfast officially launched last week.
The new project, running in partnership between the Northern Irish homeless charity East Belfast Mission (EBM) and social justice charity Commonweal Housing, marks the first time Commonweal has launched a project outside of England.
EBM offers a wide variety of services aimed at alleviating the difficulties faced by deprived areas within the community. For over 25 years, the charity has also run ‘Hosford’, a dedicated Homelessness Service providing hostel accommodation and support to people experiencing homelessness.
‘You’re Home’ aims to create a pathway for individuals with low-level support needs ready to take the next step and leave the Hosford hostel, but the lack of suitable move-on options leaves them with no choice but to stay in the hostel for an extended period. Those affected by homelessness for whom moving into a hostel environment would be detrimental to their lives and progress toward independence will also be offered accommodation.
People with low support needs are often excluded from accessing social housing due to not having enough points to be granted accommodation by their local council. Rocketing rent costs in the private rented sector, in addition to the lack of a guarantor and prejudice from landlords for being homeless or on benefits, also prevent individuals from transitioning towards living independently.
Each tenant will be housed in a self-contained property, and support workers from Hosford will provide floating practical and emotional support to help individuals develop their skills and maintain their independence.
As part of the You’re Home project, Commonweal secured social investment to purchase five single-occupancy homes in east Belfast. Recent months have seen the first tenants move into the project, and all five properties are set to be tenanted by September.
Upon moving into her new home, an Iranian refugee who was finding it hard to get a house on benefits and as a refugee said: “When I was given the opportunity to move into my own home, I couldn’t believe it. Now I feel that my life is going to start again. I have hope and opportunity. I feel that I am someone in this country, able to do something with my life.”
Last week Commonweal joined EBM in Northern Ireland to celebrate the project’s official launch. The project launch event also focused on EBM’s upcoming 240 project, separate from You’re Home, which will see unused EBM offices converted into six apartments and a community hub.
The 240 project is one of six projects selected from across the UK that will be supported by The Prince of Wales and his Homewards initiative – a five-year locally-led programme delivered by The Royal Foundation of The Prince and Princess of Wales. Under the Homewards plans, six locations across the UK, including Belfast, will be given up to £500,000 in flexible seed funding to spend on tackling homelessness.
The latest housing statistics from the Department for Communities (DfC) show homelessness in Northern Ireland is on the rise. The number of households accepted as full-duty applicants – those for whom the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) must provide a home – was 2,803 during January and March 2023. This figure marks a 15% increase on the 367 households at risk of homelessness in the same quarter last year.
Commonweal partnered with EBM through Call for New Ideas 2021, the charity’s partnership programme offering funding for organisations to conduct a short-term feasibility study evaluating housing models aimed at tackling social injustices and inequality.
Tom Dinnen, EBM Capacity Building Coordinator, said: “Year on year the problem of homelessness gets worse and demand for our services is at an all-time high – in the past year we received 1,000 enquiries for our 26 hostel spaces.
“People fall into homelessness for all types of reasons – it could be unemployment, illness, bereavement, addictions or a refugee trying to build a new life for themselves and their family.
“As a society we just haven’t built enough affordable housing and with the cost-of-living crisis, soaring rents and over-stretched public services, more and more people are falling into the homelessness trap. By intervening with Commonweal to directly provide affordable housing, we can give people the opportunity to have not just a house but a home in the community and a sense of belonging.”
Ashley Horsey, Chief Executive at Commonweal Housing, said: “We know the significant value that having access to a decent and affordable home can bring to vulnerable people. Too many find themselves in the yo-yo of homelessness and temporary accommodation and we hope that You’re Home provides a blueprint for Belfast, offering longer term, stable housing that will make a difference to our tenants’ lives. We are proud to be a part of this important and innovative project as we mark our first venture outside of England.”