Aspire Oxfordshire is an employment charity and social enterprise, supporting vulnerable and marginalised people to address their unique housing and employment needs. They provide specialist long-term and person-centred support, guiding their beneficiaries to build upon their skills and self-confidence.
Aspire’s application for a homelessness prevention grant, funded by Oxford Homeless Movement, was awarded in April 2020. Their project became even more relevant because of Coronavirus, as there has been a health requirement to move all rough sleepers and the homeless out of community shelters.
Aspire’s project creates a step change by utilising empty spaces to provide urgently needed move on accommodation for rough sleepers, using their experience in previous Housing First and move on housing projects. Aspire’s existing Housing First project in South Oxfordshire is designed to support people with complex needs including drug and alcohol addiction, mental health issues and multiple barriers to accessing the general housing register, and for the first time is seeing former rough sleepers exit the traditional homeless pathway in Oxford to move into their own homes in the district.
This new project will directly protect at least 12 individuals with a history of rough sleeping, enabling them to build their skills, confidence and knowledge and help them to access move on accommodation. The project’s beneficiaries are individuals with complex needs who have a history of rough sleeping. They are likely to be facing multiple challenges, including physical and mental health issues, possible issues around addiction or anti-social behaviour, long-term unemployment and low confidence and self-esteem.
Suitable people for the project will be identified by working closely with partner agencies and statutory services. Each individual will have at least nine months support with Aspire acting as landlords as well as providing on call support with their accommodation.
As Paul Roberts, Aspire’s CEO explains “Our experience in supporting highly vulnerable people has shown us that this person-centred and intense approach is crucial to help break complex behavioural cycles and allow change. Our support is designed to help each person live independently. Once they move on into independent living, we will stay in touch through our homelessness prevention team.”
This approach is based on the core values and principles of ‘Housing First’, which focuses on giving each person choice and control in their journey. Their access to stable accommodation is not dependent on overcoming the problems that led a person to be homeless, but rather they are supported to address their problems knowing they are safe and warm first.
Paul Roberts adds: “We work to get to know each person’s needs and work with them to develop a personalised housing plan. Building a strong relationship prior to the person moving into the house makes a significant difference to the project’s success. Each person who moves into the accommodation will be encouraged to access Aspire’s wider employment support to build their skills, confidence, self-esteem and employability.”
As with all Aspire’s projects, they ensure that they are continually reviewing with the beneficiaries. They do this in partnership with the Lived Experience Advisory Forum (LEAF) – which also advises Oxford Homeless Movement – to make sure that any project is fully meeting the needs of each person they are supporting. In fact Nikki Aitchison, Aspire’s Head of Employment Development Projects is co-chair of LEAF.
Aspire are using University owned property on a meanwhile basis to provide their move-on housing accommodation. This model has significant potential to be replicated by other socially responsible landlords to provide urgently needed move on housing accommodation. Aspire, as a key partner in Oxford Homeless Movement, are planning how to increase the amount of accommodation stock available. The project is designed to encourage more social landlords to work with the partnership by showcasing the potential for longer-term change.
Nikki Aitchison, Head of Employment Development Projects at Aspire talks about how the pandemic needs to be used to change the homelessness system for good.
Paul Roberts of Aspire and Andy Edwards of Transition by Design talk about their joint project to convert empty property into homes.