HOUSING FIRST: Former rough sleepers praise scheme
“Without this I’d be dead or on drugs, it’s as simple as that. Housing First helped me turn my life around so much.”
David Armishaw is one of dozens of rough sleepers in Walsall who has been supported by the pilot Housing First accommodation which has helped him into a permanent home.
And the 28-year-old was pleased to be able to share his story with former Prime Minister Theresa May, who visited the borough to see the success of the scheme set up during her reign in 2017.
Mrs May was at GreenSquare Accord Housing’s HQ in Ward Street on Wednesday (April 28) alongside Andy Street, who is bidding to be re-elected as West Midlands Mayor on May 6.
As well as David, another former homeless man Imran-Reece Wall and officers involved in delivering Housing First shared the story of Walsall’s success.
Through the support David and Imran, aged 34, have found homes in Pelsall and Bloxwich respectively.
David, who admitted being a Labour supporter, said: “Theresa May is a nice lady and polite. She asked me about my background story and what support I’ve had from Housing First which has been superb.
“Without this I’d be dead or on drugs, it’s as simple as that. Housing First helped me turn my life around so much. I wanted it but these guys helped me continue to want it.”
He found himself homeless after being kicked out of his shared accommodation in 2020 and sleeping in Walsall town centre.
He said: “One morning, I woke up I was that cold I had to go to hospital as I nearly ended up with hypothermia.
“It was through my social workers who called an ambulance. I was sleeping on St Matthew’s Church bench.
“It is a rock-hard metal bench. I had pains in my side. I had a sleeping bag but it was a really thin one.”
Mrs May said: “The message from both David and Imran is their lives have been turned around by Housing First and the support they have been given.
“Crucially, Andy Street put homelessness as one of his key priorities. Not just to get the money but do it in the way that delivers.
“What matters is that people like David and Imran have seen their lives change.
“One of the key things is the role Walsall Council has had. The council has been hugely supportive of this and without that then the scheme could not have been successful.”
The pilot was started in several areas across the country, including the West Midlands, in 2017 after then minister Sajid Javed visited Finland to see how it was being administered there.
More than 400 people have been supported across the region with the Walsall scheme – run by the council along with GreenSquare Accord and Walsall Housing Group – being the most successful to date.
A total of 91 rough sleepers are being helped with 76 now in permanent accommodation with the rest going through the process.
Mrs May said: “It made sense because so often in the past the assumption has been you just give someone temporary accommodation and they’lll sort themselves out.
“But actually giving them permanent accommodation and then working with them to sort out what maybe complex set of issues is the way that delivers.
“I’d like to see it continue and rolled out. It is a message I will take back.
“I will talk to Eddie Hughes, Walsall MP and homelessness minister, about how we can promote the success of this.
“From what I’ve seen today is this can turn people’s lives around completely. It’s a benefit to them individually and also to society as a whole.”
Mr Street added: “It was great to welcome Teresa May to Walsall to see the progress we have made across the region with Housing First.
“As Prime Minister, it was Mrs May who signed off the initial £9.6million grant that launched the Housing First pilot here, which has now seen more than 400 rough sleepers helped into proper accommodation, as well as addressing the personal issues they faced.
“All seven councils in the West Midlands have taken part in the scheme, but Walsall in particular has really embraced it – the result being a staggering drop in rough sleeping in the borough.
“We heard directly from Imran and David about how Housing First has changed their lives as well as learning how the team at Accord go above and beyond to reach out to those in need. It was inspirational to hear about how the scheme is changing lives.”
The other candidates bidding to become West Midlands Mayor are:
Liam Byrne (Labour)
Steve Caudwell (Green)
Pete Durnell (Reform UK)
Jenny Wilkinson (Liberal Democrats)
Words: Gurdip Thandi, Local Democracy Reporter
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