Julie Fadden is determined to use her term as president of the Chartered Institute of Housing to end rough sleeping - and she’s prepared to “get on people’s nerves” to do it. Martin Hilditch investigates
As darkness falls in Liverpool city centre, Julie Fadden is deep in conversation with a young, homeless man.
Cars swish by on the busy road behind them, as the man, Jamie (not his real name), sits next to a cashpoint outside a Sainsbury’s Local, in an army camouflage jacket, waterproof trousers and grubby Adidas trainers. Jamie used to serve in the Armed Forces, but has been on the streets for months, since his mother died and he had to move out of her social home. He stares into the distance with a haunted look in his eyes.
Ms Fadden, chief executive of 3,700-home South Liverpool Homes (SLH) and the president of the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), presents quite the contrast. Her sparkly flip-flops glitter as she bustles around Jamie with an energetic mix of concern and excitement. She met him a few weeks ago, when she was handing out food and clothes to homeless people as part of a weekly outreach team - the Paper Cup Project - with which she has started volunteering. She has been trying to catch up with him since.
“I’ve been dreaming about you,” she says, concern etched on her face.
“She has been worried sick about you,” adds her friend, Carole, who is also part of the team tonight.
“You are one of our heroes,” Ms Fadden continues, leaning over to speak to Jamie. “It is our job to look after you now.”
Jamie says he was in the army for two years, until he was 27. He left after getting shot in the leg in Afghanistan.
“I only put my leg on the floor out of the van and the bullet hit me,” he says, with a voice drained of emotion.
“I realised my leg was wet. There was a big hole in it.”
He says he tries to get enough money together each night to stay in a B&B. “Anything is better than staying on the street,” he says, adding that “it hasn’t been too bad” recently because it has been warm.
After a few minutes’ absence, Ms Fadden is back with some plastic Sainsbury’s bags containing food and drink. “I’ve gone a bit mad,” she says as she hands over the bags to Jamie along with a tenner (“because I’m soft” she admits, when we asked about the money later).
“One day soon we are going to get you in a flat,” she tells Jamie. “You have to keep positive. I am determined. I am not going to leave you on the street. I promise you.”
“If you’ve got the power to change someone’s life, why wouldn’t you use it?”
Jamie is not the first person Ms Fadden has made this pledge to since she started volunteering. But this is not just idle talk. Ms Fadden has been taking direct action to house homeless people and has already moved several individuals she has met on her Monday night shifts into some of SLH’s empty properties - often the day after she has met them. She does not want to stop there, though. Earlier this year, Ms Fadden was elected president of the CIH. She wants to use her year in office to ruffle some feathers. Her message is simple. She does not just want to talk about better ways to tackle rough sleeping. She believes social landlords have it in their power to end it.
This is the story of the outreach work that has shaken up her own world in the past few months, what she wants others to do and why she is planning to “piss people off” in an effort to make a difference.
In a nutshell, Ms Fadden wants social landlords to offer up extra homes to homelessness charities (on top of the work they are already doing) and challenge allocations policies that make it difficult to rehouse some homeless people.
Ms Fadden has herself been taking even more direct action - offering SLH homes to people she has met on the streets. The government’s rough sleeping count suggests there were 15 rough sleepers in Liverpool last year, up from three in 2010 and almost double the eight found in 2014. Both locally and nationally, Ms Fadden thinks the sector can do more than it already does and that it could reduce rough sleeping figures dramatically - or even end it entirely - by altering its approach. She has called on social landlords to house two homeless people a month [on top of anything they do already]. In business parlance, she sees herself as a disruptor.
“In effect, chief executives are millionaires because they are responsible for millions of pounds of properties,” she states. “If you have got the power to change someone’s life, why wouldn’t you use it?”
“I’m going to get on people’s nerves. I’ll do it because there’s stuff that needs doing.”
The volunteering work she has undertaken has had a profound effect on her approach. She reels off moving story after moving story about the people she has met since she first began heading out on a Monday night (“There was a girl - all she wanted was a pair of pants. They were dirty and all she wanted was to change. It is simple stuff at the end of the day.”)
Overall, though, the work has fired up her belief that landlords can do more to reduce rough sleeping. As we follow the outreach workers pushing a red trolley laden with food down the road, she admits that when she first headed out she was thinking about handing out food and clothing rather than homes. Then, on her first night, she was talking to a homeless man and got a strong “gut feeling”.
“I thought ‘you know what, I am going to give you a chance’,” she says. “It was as simple as that.”
She found out whether SLH had any vacant homes and then made the man an offer on the spot.
“There was no plan,” she admits. “It was just from the heart. I had the power to help and felt that I should do something.”
Today, she is at it again, promising Jamie that they will sort him out with accommodation (although since she first met him, contact has been made with a charity - Soldiers Off the Street - that rehouses ex-service personnel and a home has been lined up). Nonetheless, I ask her how comfortable she is making such pledges.
“I promised him because how hard can it be to give someone a flat?” she rejoinders swiftly. “Actually, he just needs a chance.”
Source: Tadhg Devlin
But before other providers pile in, there are some issues they need to think through. Inside Housing’s Cathy at 50 campaign, launched this week, is calling on councils to commission ‘Housing First’ services and for associations to pinpoint extra stock for Housing First schemes.
Housing First works by providing homeless people with high needs with a home (without conditions such as having to access support services first), as well as wrap-around flexible support to help them maintain their tenancy. It is this last point that providers need to consider when they allocate homes to rough sleepers or other homeless people.
For example, SLH owns properties in the Speke area of Liverpool. If SLH were to be part of a Housing First scheme, attention would need to be paid to how easy it is for them to access services they may be using - such as drug or alcohol support.
Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis, says it is vital for providers to look at what is best for the individual and to offer them a choice as to where they live, “making sure people have access to services geographically”.
“Most good Housing First models have key worker or mentoring schemes to make sure everyone who is housed does have support - but it is not a pre-condition for accessing accommodation,” he states.
Julie Marsh, head of neighbourhood management at SLH, who is also a regular volunteer with the outreach service, says there is support in place for the people rehoused so far.
“We are looking at them as individuals,” she says, before adding people housed in this way receive “intensive support” with regular visits from SLH. Justin Guy, a neighbourhood manager with SLH, who also volunteers, has ferried people around in his car and given them neighbourhood tours to help them settle in.
“I promised him because how hard can it be to give someone a flat? Actually, he just needs a chance.”
Michelle Langan, who set up this Monday night outreach service, is in no doubt about the effect it has had. “It is brilliant the partnership that we have with Julie and her team,” she states. “It’s making a real difference.”
Ms Fadden is determined to use her term as CIH president to push other chief executives to take more action to reduce rough sleeping.
“I’m going to get on people’s nerves,” she states. “I make no apologies for that. I’ll do it because there’s stuff that needs doing.”
She says she is determined to act because: “I believe we are on Earth to leave it better than when we found it.”
As we walk down the street in the twilight, she expands on her motivations: “It is about doing the best you can to help another human being. When I get home tonight, I will be tired - but it will be a good tired.”