A Bed Every Night – Reflection by Matthew Kidd from Creative Inclusion

On Tuesday 9th March 2021 the Homelessness Action Network held an learning event to reflect on people’s experiences of ABEN (A Bed for Every Night) provision in Greater Manchester. Creative Inclusion were commissioned to write a report which brings together different perspectives on how Greater Manchester can respond as a whole system to improve the experiences of people accessing ABEN. In early 2020 our organisation had conducted some peer research into people’s experiences, through this work we were able to further build on this knowledge and also incorporate our learning around co-production. At this event, the HAN shared the findings from this report with the wider network. The report focuses on three areas, we dispersed into break out rooms to expand on the learning we have to date on each of the following:

  • Feedback from the ABEN leads in each borough of GM
  • Coproduction, the experiences of professionals and people with lived experience coming together to form a local learning partnership in Bury
  • Feedback from people who have accessed ABEN

The video of the event can be found here.

Samra Said from GMHAN designed and distributed a questionnaire to the ABEN leads for each of the GM Local Authorities. Through this questionnaire we found out more about what the key barriers are to supporting more people to move on from ABEN accommodation into long-term tenancies. Every borough which responded identified a lack of suitable accommodation for people to move on to as being a key barrier, other significant barriers included:

  • Difficulties housing people with no recourse to public funds (due to them being ineligible for Housing Benefit)  
  • A lack of wraparound support services to support people with multiple needs 
  • Move on options being too restrictive for people who still have high support needs 

The event provided local authorities to share their experiences of what works in terms of coordinating a multi-agency response to supporting people with multiple needs, particularly those with enduring substance abuse and mental health conditions.

How we re-align services and systems to respond to people who are facing multiple issues at the same time is also the focus of the coproduction learning partnership. The ABEN lead for Bury, the chair of Bury homelessness partnership and the team leader of the GM Housing Service for this zone came together with people who have accessed, or tried to access, support whilst experiencing a combination of challenges such as:

  • Homelessness
  • Mental health
  • Substance abuse
  • Being in the criminal justice system
  • Being a survivor of domestic abuse 

The learning partnership have completed a review of Bury’s homelessness strategy to incorporate the views and experiences of people who have faced these challenges. They are now in the process of gathering the views and experiences of 30 people  accessing ABEN and other homelessness services in the borough to gain an in-depth understanding of what people in Bury want and need from both public services, the third sector and community support in a much broader sense.

The professionals involved in this work have commented on how much they value the perspectives, involvement and commitment from those with lived experience. Meanwhile those with lived experience have felt valued and feel they have the opportunity to make a difference. At the event we were able to share learning from this work with other people who are working in partnership with individuals and groups with lived experience.

The experiences of people accessing ABEN have varied from those for whom the experience was extremely positive, to those who felt the experience had a negative impact on their wellbeing. Greatly depending on:

1) The quality and type of provision/accommodation

2) The level of support offered, for example whether support is available during the day and whether people had a named, consistent source of support to help them move on. 

3) The skills, qualities and temperament of the staff working on the projects

4) The ability and willingness of staff, particularly security staff, to apply rules

fairly, consistently and in a way which promotes dignity and respect and

individualised consideration

You can read more about the learning from each of the three areas of focus in the Interim Report.

The findings from our report reinforce the findings from an independent evaluation of ABEN by Dr Beth Watts and Lynne McMordie with Melissa Espinoza, Dora Welker, and Prof. Sarah Johnsen (The Institute for Social Policy, Housing, Equalities Research (I-SPHERE) is now issued and you can read the summary report here.

The current phase of our work capturing people’s experiences of accessing ABEN, and working in a learning partnership to respond to it, will conclude by the end of April 2021. We will then be in a position to finalise the report and produce a set of recommendations about how to achieve more consistency in ABEN provision to better meet the needs of people experiencing multiple challenges at the same time. People who took part in the peer research will be taking part in a session alongside GMCA and the people who carried out the independent evaluation to plan how we are going to incorporate all of the learning generated in decisions about how we commission and continuously improve ABEN provision moving forward.