Independent: new approach stops councils stonewalling vulnerable homeless
tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Mon Feb 17 13:25:17 GMT 2014
Special report: New start for the homeless that saves lives and money
A one-to-one mentoring scheme is helping the most
needy residents of one affluent city break out of
a cycle of drugs, alcohol, family breakdown and sleeping rough
Sunday 16 February 2014
Tommy Rice had been homeless in Cambridge for
more than 20 years before he finally got real
help. Addicted to alcohol and heroin, he was
habitually kicked out of night shelters and
forced to sleep in one of the city's car parks.
A year ago he met someone who changed everything.
That man was Tom Tallon, who runs a project in
Cambridgeshire that has found a new way of
reaching homeless people with the most complex needs.
"I'm totally clean now," Mr Rice said, rolling up
his sleeves to show arms with no fresh needle
scarring. "Look!" He lives in a flat with a
garden, "the first place I've had in my life", is
receiving methadone treatment for his heroin
addiction and is gradually coming off the booze.
The method that got him there is simple: assign a
worker to the most hard-to-reach homeless people
and help them to navigate through the health,
justice, addiction, mental health and housing
systems until their life is better. Called Making
Every Adult Matter (Meam), it has been
established by a coalition of charities to
revolutionise the way Britain deals with the
cases 60,000 of homelessness that are hardest to
solve. The bespoke service sounds costly, but two
years on in Cambridge it saved taxpayers an
average of almost £1,000 a month per homeless
person money not spent on emergency treatment, housing and policing.
A report out this week analysing the pilot in
Cambridge, along with two others in Somerset and
Derby, shows the Meam model can bring down public
spending on individuals by more than 20 per cent
on average, as well as dramatically improving their quality of life.
Mr Tallon and another caseworker, Liam Stewart,
act as a personal assistant and counsellor rolled
into one for Tommy Rice. They make sure his
appointments do not clash (and that he gets to
them), as well as lobbying on his behalf for
housing, rehab and other practical concerns.
"I thought I was going to spend the rest of my
life on the street," Mr Rice said. "I haven't had
help like this in 20 years. They can sort me out
with my [methadone] script or my housing or
setting up my bills. I'd be screwed without them."
Oliver Hilbery, national project director of
Meam, said of the system: "Everything day to day
pushes people back to service models that we know
are ineffective. This allows you to push for a flexibility of response."
Mr Tallon, who runs the project in Cambridge,
said: "There should be no reason for my role. In
theory, all the services should work together in
harmony but they have their own focus. Often with
a complex client there are six or more services
they're working with, such as police, mental
health, the GP, addiction programmes and housing
all pulling in different directions. Often you
might have three appointments across the city at
the same time and you have to decide between your
liberty, health and survival. My role is to
organise things so that doesn't happen."
Making appointments happen can also involve more
prosaic action. Mr Tallon explained: "We drive
people to appointments if we need to, and if we
can't find them and it's something important, we
traipse round the streets to find them, stick
them in a car and take them there."
Over the past four years, Mr Tallon and two
colleagues have worked with 45 people in
Cambridge. Some are off their books after eight
weeks; others take more than three years to get
back on track, but almost all have seen their lives improve.
The savings in money spent on policing, emergency
NHS care and highly staffed shelters have also
been dramatic, according to an independent report
on the Meam model out this week from Pro Bono
Economics and FTI Consulting. After two years on
the programme, the cost of each client to the
public purse had gone down by 26.4 per cent in
Cambridgeshire, a saving of £958 per client per month.
"By getting people engaged with treatment and
improving their well-being, their offending goes
down and their interaction with the criminal
justice system drops through the floor," said Mr Tallon.
"Planned treatment rather than emergency
treatment in hospital is also cheaper."
Tim Battrick, the author of the report, said:
"There's no magic solution that saves money
instantly, but if you follow through with this
then you can save a lot. Even if this didn't save
money, it's a worthwhile thing to stop people
being homeless. The fact that it does save money is a bonus."
At Cambridge Access Surgery, a GP practice
dedicated to homeless people, lead practice nurse
Anthea Parsons said she has noticed a difference
in the patients that Mr Tallon and his team work
with. "Clients often hadn't had any medical
treatment for quite a while and a lot were not
good at attending appointments. Now they do. I
can think of one person in particular who comes
regularly to replace dressings, and we're beginning to heal their wounds."
Improving their access to healthcare prevents
these patients from becoming another of the
city's grim statistics. The average life
expectancy of a homeless person in Cambridge is
44, compared with 80 in the city's population as a whole.
In a memorial garden behind Riverside homeless
centre, a semicircle of wooden posts with 98
plaques on them bear the names of homeless people
who have died in Cambridge since 2007. Another 56
still need to be added to bring it up to date.
"Without help, that memorial just gets bigger and bigger," Mr Tallon said.
Emma Hyde, 40, is a project worker with homeless
people at Jimmy's Assessment Centre in the city.
She said: "I was sleeping rough in Cambridge for
six years. I used to have a really good job in
Formula One journalism, and within six months I
got breast cancer, my husband walked out and my
father died. I was very ill and on my own and I hit the bottle."
Pregnancy helped her to give up alcohol, and for
the past five years her life has been back on
track. But she believes intervention of the kind
offered by Mr Tallon would have saved her much
faster. "Not everyone is a tick-box, and some
people will never settle in a hostel system.
People either spend years navigating through it
or die. Having someone like [Mr Tallon] to act on
your behalf makes all the difference."
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