The Wokingham Paper

‘We need more Crisis Houses’: Call to boost housing stock for homeless

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THE FOUNDER of the Wokingham Crisis House has warned that there is not enough provision for people who are homeless and mentally ill within the borough.

Pam Jenkinson set up the Wokingham Crisis House 30 years ago to provide support to mentally ill people who became homeless.

But during the last decade, Pam and her team of volunteers have turned their work to drop-in support, due to a loss of funding.

The house in Station Approach – which provided beds for the homeless for 20 years – used to be supported by the borough council.

But austerity measures in 2010 meant the council could no longer continue their funding support to the Crisis House and a number of smaller charities across the borough.

Ten years on, Ms Jenkinson is concerned that support for the most vulnerable people has dropped off, as more organisations have been forced to close their doors.

“We used to be more focused on homelessness when we had beds,” she explained.

“We would frequently have a mentally ill person who was homeless come in, and they would spend time here sorting themselves out.

“And they could stay for up to two years, after that point we said it was no longer a crisis, so they would go into another form of accom-modation.

“But while they were staying, we could observe their capabilities to see if they would cope in a self-contained flat, or would need more specialist housing.

“Unfortunately, the accom-modation we often got them into doesn’t exist anymore.”

Ms Jenkinson explained that her team used to refer people to housing in two specialist mental health hostels on London Road.

“They had a high and a low support option,” she said. “People would often go into the high support section, and they were trained up in how to cook, and manage their washing and cleaning and all sorts.

“And then when they were ready, they could move into the low support option next door, which was self-catering.

“And then if they did well there, they could progress into a flat in the community.

“But they closed down. First they took away the night staff, then the day staff and then it closed completely, and the current residents were given flats in the community.

“But since it closed, there has been no new provision for people to access a similar kind of support.”

Ms Jenkinson explained that it used to be more straightforward to help vulnerable homeless people to find a home.

“It was much easier to get people with mental health issues into council homes,” she said. “There was a points system and the more vulnerable you were the higher you went on the list.

“People used to come to us homeless, settle in and then we would go with them to the Shute End offices and help fill in the forms to register for housing. Within a couple of weeks they got a flat, and that wasn’t uncommon.

“But during the 20 years we were doing this, the length of time waiting for a flat kept getting longer and longer.

“Some people were with us for 18 months to two years.

“There was a deterioration in the availability, because they sold off a lot of the housing.

“There’s not really any kind of accommodation for mentally ill homeless as far as I can see.

“In our experience, homelessness has increased because places that used to be available for people no longer are.”

And Ms Jenkinson believes there isn’t enough specialist support in the housing options.

“We had one severely mentally ill person, who we tried to get mental health accommodation for,” she explained.

“And the council offered a deposit and rent advance scheme. This meant they had to find their own place to live.

“They were incapable of finding a place, it was unlikely a landlord would accept someone in that position, and they wouldn’t have coped at all living on their own without support.

“But the council said they had discharged their statutory duty to them, because they offered that deposit and rent in advance.

“There’s a real lack of places for vulnerable and mentally ill people to live, these people are not suited to a single bed flat on their own.

“Even Prospect Park Hospital, which focuses on mental health support, offers more acute treatment to get people out quickly.”

Ms Jenkinson hopes that more crisis houses will open in the future for communities across Berkshire.

She said: “We don’t need bigger crisis houses, we need more of them. We need a couple in Reading and Bracknell and they need to be appropriate and tailored to the needs of the community.

“I am sure if you went around Berkshire, there would be plenty of redundant buildings like ours used to be.

“You just need the imagination to set it up.”

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