Hemel Hempstead woman praises new housing scheme that offers a lifeline away from homelessness

The initiative is helping the most vulnerable rough sleepers access the vital help and support they need to rebuild their lives
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A woman from Hemel Hempstead has praised the housing scheme that has given her a lifeline away from homelessness.

Kerry - name changed to protect anonymity - now has a home to call her own, thanks to a new 'Housing First' partner initiative run jointly by Dacorum Borough Council, St Albans City and District Council and Hightown Housing Association.

The initiative, launched last year, is helping the most vulnerable rough sleepers in Dacorum and St Albans access the vital help and support they need to rebuild their lives.

Nikki Thompson, Housing First Co-ordinatorNikki Thompson, Housing First Co-ordinator
Nikki Thompson, Housing First Co-ordinator

Speaking out in the run up to World Homeless Day (October 10), Kerry, who has lived with mental health challenges all her adult life and for a year before being housed was sleeping at a local night shelter, said: "When you get offered something like Housing First, it's literally a life saver.

"When you become homeless, you change within yourself, not just mentally but emotionally it takes a toll on you."

In addition to being housed in a Hightown property, the 33-year-old receives round-the-clock support from a dedicated key worker, Nikki Thompson, an important aspect of the Housing First approach.

Since working with Kerry, Nikki has helped her to access many local support organisations, including Herts Help, Befrienders and Mind.

Gemma Richardson, Housing First Delivery LeadGemma Richardson, Housing First Delivery Lead
Gemma Richardson, Housing First Delivery Lead

Kerry added: "It's not just the fact that you're safe every night, it's also the fact that you have support that's tailored to your personal needs and driven by you. When I first moved in, I had no idea how to do things, so every day I was seeing Nikki.

"Now I'm settled I'm going to be seeing her one day less a week, but I do know that if I need extra support, I can always call her and she'll call me back. If things get that bad, I can say to Nikki that I need someone here with me and she will sort it out.

"I couldn't give any more praise for Housing First."

The Housing First scheme was introduced following a successful joint bid by Dacorum Borough Council and St Albans City and District Council to the Government's Rough Sleeper Initiative, securing a £100,000 grant to help tackle rough sleeping in the area.

Natasha Beresford, Dacorum Borough Council’s group manager for Strategic Housing, said: "We are committed to tackling homelessness in the borough.

"Together with our recently launched street outreach service, the Housing First initiative is making a real difference to the lives of a significant number of vulnerable people in Dacorum whose needs were previously going unmet.

"Thanks to the Government grant, we're also able to do so with no extra cost to Dacorum council tax payers."

According to the scheme's delivery lead Gemma Richardson, Hightown's Head of Care and Supported Housing in Hertfordshire, the support that Housing First tenants receive is

crucial to its success.

She said: "One of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to entrenched rough sleepers is that you provide a home and all their problems are solved.

"This simply isn't true. They need that extra help, not only to leave negative behaviours behind but also to rebuild the confidence and self-esteem that has been shattered by years of hardship.

"More often than not, a property is just the start of a long journey to a stable future."