As our intended two -year lease finally draws to a close, what lessons have we learned at Simon Weston House?
The short answer is many but most notably, despite the widely reported apparent increase in the number of UK homeless veterans, this has not been our experience.
The property, following an extensive refurbishment, opened its welcoming doors in May 2015. A total of 11 self -contained flats, equipped with a microwave, small refrigerator and a complete set of cooking utensils were complemented by a communal room which overlooked a mature garden.
As part of the post release process sufficient electricity was provided (meter in each room) for the initial 10 days and a weeks’ shopping was purchased from the local supermarket. Each veteran’s needs were assessed and met. This occasionally included a clothes voucher together with a toilet kit, the latter comprising shaving equipment, a flannel, soap and shampoo.
Full occupancy in a relatively short period of time was, we felt, almost guaranteed.
Nothing could be more straightforward – or could it?
External surveillance was subsequently installed as a means of protecting the residents.
The fill rate was slower than initially thought. Following the scheduled initial intake, the subsequent two years has witnessed a total of 17 veterans being successfully housed from various HM Prisons which unfortunately was below projected expectation. Average occupancy was in line with the agreed 6-months licence to occupy.
However, of the 17 residents, a total of 14 have successfully transitioned to independent living this attributable to ongoing support and advice from the accommodation manager and designated mentors.
A total of seven went on to full-time employment. Of the remaining 10 several were deemed permanently unfit for work, this in some cases attributable to issues whilst serving.
Of the 17 residents I am pleased to report only one veteran has re-offended and is currently on remand.
The project has clearly been beneficial to all residents and supports the view that significant contributory factors in re-offending is homelessness and unemployment together with poor health.
The creation of a supportive environment amongst a vulnerable group of individuals fostered a sense of belonging and being valued.
Has it been worthwhile – Yes Would we do it again – Yes Would be do it differently – Yes