We can work together to tackle homelessness, says Ian Burnett at United Living
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As a national building contractor that works in residential development, if there is one lesson we can bring from our UK-wide construction projects, it is that by working together we can all become much better representatives of our industry by making a concerted effort to discuss, listen and inspire.
Strong partnerships have seen our business complete many successful housing projects across the country, building much-needed new homes as well as refurbishing existing homes on behalf of councils and housing associations. These partnerships extend to supporting the communities we work in with social value projects and legacies. By strengthening such partnerships, we can also strengthen our resolve and play our part in tackling difficult topics such as homelessness.
According to government figures, the number of rough sleepers has more than doubled over the past two years. With a clear need to end homelessness altogether, our government is now aiming to at least halve rough sleeping by 2020.
Having a home is key to a happy and healthy life, and rough sleeping can have long-term consequences for an individual’s mental health and well-being.
Through our trusted partnerships, we have the opportunity to offer a range of work placements, apprenticeships and training schemes, enabling individuals to gain vital skills as part of our investment and support within the communities in which we work. We also work collaboratively with our partners to ensure we create a lasting legacy in these communities.
This year there has been a large media focus around mental health issues, which can be a root cause of homelessness. At United Living we have put a huge emphasis on tackling the issue of mental health, starting with our staff. Mental illness can spiral rapidly. It’s a steep, fast slope that can quickly end in rough sleeping if people feel out of control and have problems that are not dealt with.
Our teams across the business have been fully supporting conversations and training among our staff and we have made a great start in creating an open environment where people can share issues with their teams and get signposted to help if needed. Throughout Mental Health Awareness Week, some members of our teams volunteered to share their own mental health issues on video to help break down the stigma associated with mental health problems.
Moving forward internally, we are putting together a team of mental health first aiders, who will be trained and part of our business, to help people when they need someone to talk to or need advice about a specific problem. We have realised it’s a big issue not just in construction but in many sectors, and we want to support our teams when they need it. We would also be happy to share what we are doing with others to help them begin the same journey we have with our teams.
Many people who have had a career in the Armed Forces find that, after they return, they struggle to adapt and end up on the streets. Our project with Knightstone Housing saw our team train and work with 10 ex-service personnel to help them build their own homes.
This collaborative working and joined-up thinking is not only giving homeless people new skills and providing them with support and training to get and stay in employment, but it is also giving them a home.