By Jim Dennison, CEO of Simon Community NI

I am delighted to announce the development of new service for Simon Community NI, created with support from Nationwide Community Grants. Via a £50,000 fund, we will now be able to deliver a Tenancy Sustainment Service, which will see a dedicated Support Worker help individuals and families to find, pay for, and maintain the right property.

For those consumed with worry and fear relating to their homelessness, this service will be a vital lifeline for those ready for independent living. My colleague, Eoin Ryan, highlights in Holding on to Hope that “the experience of homelessness can often have a significant impact on someone’s mental health. For those without a home, or fear of losing their home, there is often a lack of adequate social support and feelings of isolation.” My hope is that this new service will complement the existing Simon Community NI services range to give hope to some of society’s most vulnerable.

The importance of such a service was highlighted to me during the summer after reading a news report, Landlord fined for illegally changing locks on couple with two young children’, which cemented my belief that the private rental sector still has a way to go if it is to become a solution to homelessness as opposed to a cause. Each year, around 13% of individuals who present as homeless to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive state that they are without a home because of loss of rented accommodation. To put this into context, that’s around 2,500 people and families who are in positions of concern and worry over how they’ll keep a roof over their head or where their next safe night’s sleep will be – worries that greatly impact mental health and sense of identity and worth.

With statutory homelessness having increased by 52% in the last five years in Northern Ireland, to say it’s a landlord’s market would be an understatement. The absence of social housing new builds means there is a steady stream of customers waiting to sign on the dotted line to see a roof over their heads. In such a competitive market, a landlord doesn’t always need to take a ‘risk’ on those who cannot afford the high up-front costs of deposits, or consider if the monthly rent of their buy-to-let properties are unaffordable to individuals on benefits, nor do they need to invest in resolving conflicts when they arise. In the current climate, many private landlords can unknowingly become catalysts for homelessness and in doing so play a negative role in issues such as poor mental health.

I would be doing the many good landlords out there a disservice by not commending their great work in bridging the gap between homelessness and housing. Many of the clients Simon Community NI has supported are now living happily in private homes and it is because of these success stories that we’re now able to consider innovative solutions that make private renting an option to people who are experiencing homelessness.

We will use the Nationwide Community Grant to recruit a Tenancy Sustainment Officer who will support existing clients into independent living by:

  • Providing the guidance needed to find and maintain the right property not just a property;
  • Developing positive relationships with landlords, highlighting the importance of renting to those experiencing homelessness and mediating where necessary; and
  • Helping our clients with the costs of a deposit.

I see this approach as a necessary step to tackling one of the key causes of homelessness – providing the expertise, support and financial backing needed to live independently. By creating more pathways for those experiencing homelessness and by working with forward-thinking landlords, we hope to play a bigger part in ending homelessness for people.

Every day, Simon Community NI ends homelessness for someone and with your support we can help more people. Just £21 per month could pay for a Home Pack, providing clients who are ready to live independently with household items such as a warm bed.