Leeds homeless organisation Beacon supports hundreds of people to get off the city's streets
With a 40-year track record for helping vulnerable people, Turning Lives Around was a natural choice to lead a council-funded consortium tackling homelessness in Leeds.
Since July 2017 it has worked alongside mental health and wellbeing charity Touchstone and social justice organisation Foundation to provide not only beds but also intensive support to some of the city’s most vulnerable people.
Together, under the banner of Beacon, they have worked with hundreds of individuals, couples and families to help set them on the path to independent living.
Turning Lives Around chief executive Janet Spencer said: “The three organisations are very experienced and have a long history in working with homelessness and supporting people that have complex needs.
“That means someone can come to us who’s homeless, has mental health issues or addictions, and, because of this, offending behaviour. They can commonly come from a very troubled background.”
Beacon works very closely alongside Leeds Housing Options, the council team that is often the first point of contact for people on the brink of becoming homeless or already without a place to stay.
This extends to having key workers based at its office in the same way that Beacon has also built links with HMP Leeds and other potential referral points.
If someone is in crisis and sleeping rough, the consortium can offer a bed immediately in one of its three Intensive Support Environment (ISE) sites.
“They can come into these right from the street,” Janet said. “It’s 24 hours, seven days a week.”
This kind of capacity to house people swiftly is also why Beacon is a key part of the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol, which makes additional beds available for rough sleepers when temperatures plunge or storms are forecast.
But the consortium is about more than providing a bed for a night or a week, with different types of housing available at each stage of a person’s journey.
Janet said: “We’re looking to place these people in more permanent situations as soon as possible.”
For many, that next step may be one of Beacon’s ‘dispersed accommodation’ sites around the city that act as a stepping stone.
While there are various established routes to progression, Janet says the pivotal point is that each person be treated as an individual and each plan be tailored to their needs.
“We may have someone in intensive support for a period of a few weeks,” she said. “What it really depends on is whether that person is in a situation that we can actually think to move them on is positive.
“What we try and do is to work with that person as an individual and measure their capability. It’s no good putting somebody out there and you think they’ll be back in here in three weeks’ time.”
The intensive support offered includes tenancy training along with other options such as budgetary and financial advice, peer mentoring, access to volunteering and educational opportunities, and recovery support.
Beacon can accommodate 234 people at any one time, with a maximum length of stay between six and 10 months.
It worked with 563 clients during its first 12 months alone.
And while there are targets detailed in its contract, Janet is determined that the emphasis remains on what is right for each individual.
If arrangements had been made for a client to move into dispersed accommodation but then they had a mental health episode, those plans would be suspended to ensure they stayed where the best support was on hand.
“We would be setting those people for a fall otherwise,” Janet said.
“Our reason for working is that we want to work with individuals, support them, offer them the physical independence they want.”
Of course, there are still times when people do find themselves homeless once again – but Beacon will be there to help for as long as it takes.
Janet said: “We call it the revolving door syndrome and that still happens. We would not refuse to take somebody back again and again and again.”