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Transatlantic Exchange: No Burning Bridges

Our System Broker Alex is currently in LA as part of Homeless Link's Transatlantic Exchange, and will be working with Brilliant Corners for the next two weeks to learn about Critical Time Intervention (CTI) and how this way of working can benefit multiple complex needs programmes back in the UK. In her first week in LA, Alex has seen how Brilliant Corners' programmes support multiple complex needs individuals like those we support in Newcastle and Gateshead. Their key philosophy is that 'people do not fail'.

A phrase that crops up for our complex needs clients here in the UK time and time again is that they have ‘burnt their bridges’ and therefore have very limited housing options available to them.

From the time I have spent with Brilliant Corners and Amity Foundation it would seem that bridges do not burn in LA!  The two main programmes I have studied here, Breaking Barriers (Rapid Re-Housing) and ODR (Permanent Supported Housing) have one very key and clear principle: people do not fail.  Like the UK, there are a number of different programmes being funded to work with different populations of people and referral into those programmes are based on eligibility requirements for, what seems to me, a robust process of screening and matching people with the right programme of support.

This is a crucial first step – it is essential that we understand a person’s support needs and then plan which housing option/programme is the most suitable for their needs.  However, like any screening process, it is not perfect and of course, people are individuals who do not fit into boxes, so sometimes the person is given a package of support that doesn’t work for them.  I have talked about some of the issues we face in the UK with clients; disengaging from support, relapsing in substance misuse or jeopardising a tenancy with chaotic associates, which are the same challenges US organisations face, but for people who find themselves at risk in their accommodation, eviction is not an option.

I have heard from a number of different programmes who say that transition is at the heart of everything they do to support a person in the community and to stay in the community.  From the Transitions Unit at the County Jail through to a housing placement, the focus is always on moving with a person from one point to the next.  This is done in a fully integrated way, with housing and health being intrinsically linked at all points for the individual and also on an operational level through the LA Re-Entry Partnership – LA is working very hard to eradicate siloed working for multiple complex needs clients and this has significantly reduced reoffending.

This transition is continued through programmes of support and although Case Managers will always work to ensure a placement can be maintained, if there comes a point where everyone agrees that the programme is not the right fit, a further transition then takes place.

If the programme is not right, the person is transitioned to a different programme which could include Intensive Case Management, a Board and Care programme or even a residential placement.  If the person has a temporary break from the programme, for example they get a 50/150 (the equivalent of a Mental Health Act section) or return to prison, the programme/housing would always remain for a second (third, fourth, fifth, infinity) chance.

In short, the person does not fail.  The bridge is not burnt.  If the programme of support breaks down, that’s because the match is not right, not the person.