Mental Health and Housing

Anita Birchall, HDN Associate, reflects on housing and mental health and how a single incident can have far-reaching implications.

Question: How do you house someone who categorically refuses to sign the tenancy agreement because he believes you are collecting data about him to share with the government?

Two things struck me about this problem when it was presented to me last year.  One is that he is right; we are collecting data about him to share with the government; and two, there is no way we can grant a tenancy without the requisite paperwork and information.

The problem was bounced back to him – either you sign the tenancy agreement or you don’t get the flat.

And yet the problem nagged – surely, it’s not right that we exclude people from accessing a home because they don’t trust our processes?  What does that say about social housing?

The nagging feeling persisted – perhaps we don’t need all the forms we ask people to sign? Perhaps he’s not ready for his own flat, even with support?  Or perhaps there’s a totally different way of doing this, one which we don’t currently have a form or a process for?

After discussions with Leaving Care and the local authority Homelessness Lead a duty of care was acknowledged under the Care Act and we agreed a mechanism to ‘spot purchase’ a short-term lease on the property.  He could then be ‘placed’ on a funded basis for 3 months to allow him time to get to know and trust us, and for us to find a more permanent way of enabling him to remain in his home.

A vulnerable man finally got his own home and a commitment to preventing him from becoming homeless again in the future; it freed up temporary accommodation for someone else, and the Leaving Care Team were reassured that he was much safer than in temporary hostel accommodation which had lasted over two years.

What did I learn during this process? 

  • Mental illness affects people, not buildings or processes. Symptoms can influence people’s decisions and actions and this can have serious consequences for them.
  • Processes and rules are generally written to protect assets, not people.
  • Where those two points fail to meet is a big gap which people can fall through.
  • It’s up to us to make the process work for the people who have to use it. This means tailoring the process to each person (not penalising the person until they fit the process)
  • Even if you can bend a process, you can’t break the law. Be honest about where the boundaries are.
  • Discuss it. Work with the person to find a solution.  Involve other people to come up with a solution that is the best one for the person at that point.

What does any of this have to do with mental health?

It’s an example of how a group of professionals decided to find a way to house a very vulnerable man despite the constraints of the housing system.

It recognises that his symptoms and behaviour are not reasons to exclude him, but a reason to include him, so that he is safer.

It is a system that raises concerns, is open in its discussions, and works together to find a solution.

Anita will be presenting an HDN webinar on Housing and Mental Health; Are we doing enough?

It is on 20th April, you can book here