16 November 2008

Eyes Wide Open Housing - Awards Not Courts

Ten years after the first Eyes Wide Open housing was trialled in the UK, a hostel working with ongoing users has received national awards. It is long overdue. And now there can be no excuse for others not to follow suit

We are immensely pleased to report that the King Georges Hostel in London, part of ECHG, were the recipients of two awards at the Chartered Institute of Housing/Inside Housing Awards for Outstanding Achievement In Housing (England) and Meeting the Needs of Vulnerable People. King Georges are one of the growing number of housing providers who have adopted and adapted the “eyes wide open model” of housing provision that has been pioneered here for a number of years.

The Gateway Programme at King Georges Hostel is a pioneering initiative to provide housing, drugs education and harm reduction interventions to some of the most vulnerable dependent drug users in housing need.

The Programme takes in dependent drug users in housing need, provides housing in attend education and awareness sessions on injecting, overdose, and blood borne viruses. Despite the low level of obligations at admission, residents have been engaging with a wide range of initiatives, including Turning-Point provided drug treatment, nutrition and cooking programmes, outdoors fitness sessions and football clubs. The take up of interventions such as Hep b vaccinations is exemplary and despite the high-risk client group drug deaths have been prevented.

King Georges has made use of the resources, policies and guidance produced on the KFx website to help shape and develop this provision and we are pleased to have contributed in this small way to the establishment of the project.

Whilst offering King Georges staff and residents our congratulations for their win, this award is pleasing as it is, at last, recognition for a model of work which has been increasingly widely adopted or considered but has lacked the imprimatur of “official” recognition.

Ten years ago, Single Homeless Project (SHP) in London became the first housing provider in the UK to deliver inclusive housing to active drug users, where drug use was not only fully acknowledged, but fully engaged with, including access to sharps boxes, needle exchange, harm reduction services, and treatment modalities.

Whereas previously organisations had turned a blind eye or prevented drug use, SHP were early adopters of an “eyes wide open” model which they have used successfully used in their housing provision in several London Boroughs.

Since then a growing number of Housing Providers across the UK have been working within an “eyes wide open model.” Many have found marked benefits from this approach – better engagement, more openness, increased referral to treatment, reduction in public drug use, reduction in overdoses and drug deaths.

These agencies, including Brighton and Hove Housing Trust, Thamesreach, Look Ahead, Society of St James, Wallich Clifford Community, Manchester Methodist Housing Group, Foundation Housing, St Mungos and a number of others were courageous early adopters of such an approach.

It should be remembered that at this stage there was no official endorsement of such a model of work. Ten years ago, at a conference, it wasn’t even possible to get Ian Brady, then of the Rough Sleepers Unit, to publicly endorse the placing of sharps boxes in hostels! The Home Office was pursuing a policy of extending the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 which would have made such provision illegal. And the repercussions of the Wintercomfort case made many housing providers wary of pursuing such an approach.

Since then there has been moderate progress. Norfolk DAAT embraced and endorsed an eyes wide open model in their superb document The Spectrum of Possibility. Research from Shelter demonstrated the benefits of the model in “Safe as Houses.” Papers from Cymforth Cymru reinforced the message that full spectrum, eyes wide open housing was a safe, lawful inclusive model of working with housing drug users.

Unfortunately, official recognition has been slow in coming. In 2006, an agency receiving a Housing Corporation Gold Award for Homelessness Strategies was pursuing a policy where suspicion of use (including drowsy symptoms or paraphernalia) was grounds for eviction – and this from an agency purporting to work with ongoing users.

But despite the absence of official endorsement, support or sanction, the work has crept on.

Even amongst organisations working in this way, all too often it has felt like a “dirty secret” where organsisations don’t explicitly acknowledge that they house ongoing users and manage use on site. All too often, the same organisations starting to undertake the work have to battle not just NIMBYism, public and political barriers but also too often their own organisational policy and hierarchies.

The decision by the DCLG to (quietly) endorse the “eyes wide open” model in their paper Improving Practice in Housing Drug Users was of course highly welcome, albeit that the paper fell short of an unequivocal statement acknowledging the importance of managed use on site.

So the presentation of two awards to King Georges Hostel is hugely welcome. It is not just an important acknowledgement of their work, and the progress that they have made in working with drug users.

It is also an endorsement of a model of work developed and pioneered here. From the early days, developing a model after leaving the Big Issue, through the time working and promoting it at Release, and over the past five years working with the growing number of organisations who took the work forwards, it has been a decade of change, innovation and progress.

For agencies thinking about adopting ‘eyes wide open’ models, the award to King Georges should provide the impetus to move from contemplation to decision. The resources on this site and the Drugs and Housing website provide some of the tools that such agencies will require to take this work forwards.

Eyes Wide Open housing has been a rare step change in the provision of services to drug users. In its own way it has proved as significant as the provision of needle exchange in representing a brave break with orthodoxy and the provision of pragmatic, life saving and life changing interventions.

One of the managers at King Georges got in touch a while after putting in place a lot of the changes and expressing thanks for the support and inspiration. He described what he’d got from here as “lighting the touch paper a few years ago that made me realise it could and should be done.” I am immensely pleased, proud and gratified that after ten years of work the “eyes wide open” approach is gaining acceptance and endorsement.

For myself, the drive to establish a new, inclusive model of housing which would take people who still used drugs and move them in to appropriate, supported housing began because of the tragic, senseless deaths of two young men on the streets of London, Chris Crowther and Chris Readman (aka Cockney Chris and Geordie Chris). They were murdered on Berwick St, London, on the 24th June 1997. Then, appropriate, suitable housing didn’t exist. They’d been routinely excluded from housing because of their drug use. They could and should have been housed in the right housing with the right support. There wasn’t anywhere for them then. Now there is. It’s a legacy worthy of them. And I wanted to make sure that amongst the awards, the professional congratulations and the backslapping, the small, personal tragedy that was the spark that lit the touchpaper is not forgotten.

1 comment:

Lisa Atkin said...

Thank you for all that you do , and especially thank you for doing this in the name of Geordie Chris ( Chris Readman ) He was a lovely, lovely, kind hearted beautiful soul .
I have contacted you a few years ago ( I was an ex girlfriend of Chris before he was killled and I officially identified his body ) I'm still in touch with his Mum and sister , and I still think of him often as the years pass by, with me alive and him missing out on these years that I've had since. .

I'm sure that the work that you continue to do will be massively impacting many, many people in countless positive ways , and I just want to again thank you . Thank you !
Ripples in the pond ......