Hightown's homeless service helps Hemel man overcome setbacks caused by pandemic

Dacorum Borough Council and Hightown set up the new service in Hemel Hempstead

Thursday, 8th July 2021, 5:13 pm
Updated Thursday, 8th July 2021, 5:14 pm

A new homelessness service which opened in April, in Hemel Hempstead, is already making a difference to people's lives.

The service, operated by Hightown housing association and funded by Dacorum Borough Council, has helped people like Phillip, who found himself homeless due to the pandemic.

Next Steps Accommodation Programme (NSAP) funding from the government was made available to Dacorum Borough Council who partnered with Hightown to set up the new service in Hemel Hempstead.

Phillip in the garden of the support service
Phillip in the garden of the support service

It provides five self-contained flats and staff are there to support residents with tenancy sustainment, accessing health services, or looking for training or job opportunities. With the aim of helping residents break the cycle of homelessness.

One person who has already benefitted from the service is Phillip. He was working and living in Hemel Hempstead, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Phillip was employed as a contractor and didn't get the option of being furloughed, so his income disappeared when lockdown started in March 2020 and his employment ended.

His private landlord then would not accept housing benefit payments so he found himself unable to pay his rent.

Phillip was grateful to family and friends who let him stay on their sofas but this was not a long term solution and Phillip found himself at Open Door night shelter in St Albans during the initial lockdown.

With the restrictions in place at the time, Phillip had to spend almost the entire day in his room and this started to affect his mental health.

Added to this Phillip received a life changing diagnosis from doctors in November, telling him that he had a heart condition, making it impossible for him to go back to the job he had previously been doing.

Following his successful housing application to the council, Phillip was offered the chance to move to the homeless supported accommodation in Hemel Hempstead.

Phillip said: "I'm not your typical homeless person, I'm a new generation of homeless. There are lots of people like me who were working away, minding their own business and just circumstances out of their control meant they became homeless."

Staff at the service have helped Phillip with his Universal Credit application, which he admits he found difficult to navigate since he had never applied for benefits before.

When asked what he would say to someone using Hightown's homelessness services for the first time, Phillip said: "Embrace the services of a well-oiled machine, let the professionals help you. They know better than your friends.

"Don't be shy, this isn't the first time they've heard about your problems. They will be able to help you."

Referrals to the service can be made by Dacorum Borough Council, The Elms and Hightown's Dacorum Outreach team for individuals who have a local connection to the Dacorum area.

Fiona Williamson, Dacorum Borough Council’s assistant director for housing, said: “Through our Homeless and Rough Sleeping Strategy we endorse central government’s commitment to eradicate rough sleeping in Dacorum.

"We recognise that the impact of losing a home can be far reaching and affect any person, as well as having an impact on health, wellbeing, education and employment.

"We value our relationships with our partners and work closely with them to find opportunities to bring new services to the borough to help those in need.

"We’re extremely proud to have been able to secure grant funding to bring this new service with Hightown Housing Association to our borough, providing much needed accommodation to help individuals who have experienced homelessness move on to more independent housing.”

Hightown Support operates a number of homelessness services in Dacorum, St Albans and Aylesbury.

You can reach Dacorum Borough Council's homeless out of hours service on 0800 018 60 50 and general service contacts on [email protected] or 01442 228000.