Oxfordshire blazes the trail for homelessness prevention

Published: Tuesday, 30th July 2019

Early intervention to help people before they reach crisis point has prevented homelessness in up to half of completed cases referred to new support services launched last year.

In 12 months more than a thousand (1,035) referrals were made to services delivered for the Oxfordshire Trailblazer project by Aspire Oxford and Connection Support.

In 706 completed cases, there were 326 positive outcomes that either prevented people from becoming homeless or secured accommodation for people experiencing homelessness – 46 percent of completed cases.

These positive outcomes mean reduced pressure on public services as the additional human and financial costs of homelessness can be avoided.

The Oxfordshire Trailblazer project is a partnership between the county’s five city and district councils. It works with health, criminal justice, social care and other services to identify and help people at risk of homelessness as early as possible.

Homeless and vulnerably housed people often lack the self-esteem or confidence to access services that could help prevent or end their homelessness. Aspire’s team of community navigators proactively seek out and support their clients to work with services that can help prevent homelessness and sustain tenancies.

Community navigators also support people with other issues like benefits, debt, social isolation and finding work.

Connection Support’s embedded housing workers advise staff in hospitals, prisons, probation and children’s social care services on housing and homelessness prevention options. This enables services to provide better support to prevent and end homelessness for their own clients.

Cases where embedded housing workers provide support include delayed transfer of care (“bed blocking”) from hospitals, prisoners with no fixed address on release, or children not attending school due to housing problems.  

There is a significant cost to the health and wellbeing of people experiencing homelessness. This human cost has a wider impact on public expenditure – for example, on mental health and hospital A&E services. University of York research for Crisis in 2015 revealed the additional cost to public services for a single man sleeping rough for 12 months could reach £20,128.

Estimating public expenditure avoided as the result of successful Oxfordshire Trailblazer interventions is not straightforward. In many cases – particularly in the criminal justice system – the final outcome was unknown.

Resolving intricate cases involving bed blocking or threatened care proceedings has a greater potential to reduce public costs than helping a family deal with debts that threaten a social tenancy – the most common intervention for community navigators.

Quantifying the financial impact of an intervention in complex systems like the NHS or criminal justice is also difficult, although the New Economy Manchester Model (NEMM) provides a basis for estimating potential public cost savings.

The Oxfordshire Trailblazer team used the NEMM to analyse 10 completed cases from embedded housing workers and community navigators. This estimated public cost savings ranging from £2,466 to £54,185 depending on the complexity involved in preventing or ending homelessness.

In these 10 cases, the average public expenditure saving as the result of a successful Oxfordshire Trailblazer intervention was £13,900.

Councillor Linda Smith, deputy leader and cabinet member for leisure and housing, said: “Prevention is always better than cure. Homelessness comes with a high cost to the health and wellbeing of people experiencing it, and this human cost frequently puts extra pressure on public services.

“Oxfordshire Trailblazer services show that early intervention to help people before they reach crisis point produces real results, preventing or ending homelessness in nearly half of completed referrals.

“This intervention can be as straightforward as helping a family get financial advice so they can keep paying the rent and avoid eviction. It can also involve partnership working across services to ensure someone has accommodation and can be discharged from a hospital bed they no longer need.

“Thanks to the fantastic work done by Aspire and Connection Support, the Oxfordshire Trailblazer project is showing it’s possible to reduce the human and wider societal costs of homelessness.”

Amy Delisser, Trailblazer operations manager for Connection Support, said: “We welcome the opportunity to be a part of the Oxfordshire Trailblazer’s exciting and worthwhile project. Connection Support recognises the value of developing successful partnerships. Working within statutory systems and creating better outcomes for the most vulnerable people is at the heart of Connection Support’s ethos.”

Paul Roberts, chief executive officer at Aspire Oxford, said: "It's been a privilege to be part of Trailblazer's ground-breaking work. Aspire's community navigators have supported hundreds of vulnerable people across Oxfordshire.

“By identifying people at risk of homelessness at the earliest possible stage we've made a huge difference in helping them sustain their tenancies, find new accommodation and protect them from becoming homeless.

“This project highlights how critically important the early intervention preventative approach to homelessness really is. Aspire will be continuing to provide a core homelessness prevention service once the pilot funding comes to an end, using the learning and impact from the pilot to reach those most in need."

People at risk of homelessness or agencies who want to make a referral to Aspire Oxford’s community navigator service should contact 01865 204450 or email trailblazer@aspireoxford.co.uk.