Foundations project gives people the stability to grow
Foundations, an award-winning project*, which supports prison leavers to reintegrate back into Norfolk’s communities is leading the way on how the criminal justice housing system could work.
The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk (OPCCN) is working with Norwich-based homelessness charity St Martins to help people released from prison in the city to find accommodation, with the aim of reducing the likelihood of reoffending.
A locally funded project, Foundations is delivered by St Martins and is supported by Norwich City Council and Broadland Housing. Match-funding has been provided by Norfolk Probation Service (NPS), supporting Foundations to run until September 2022.
As well as helping prison leavers access accommodation, Foundations provides individualised support to help its clients address issues such as drug and alcohol use, poor mental health, and debt, which make them vulnerable to returning to criminal behaviour, and stop the ‘revolving door’ of the criminal justice system.
A person-centred support officer at St Martins, funded by the OPCCN and NPS, works directly with prison leavers to help them access mental, physical, and emotional care, and support their reintegration back into society by encouraging positive activities and links with communities.
Norfolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Giles Orpen-Smellie, visited St Martins’ Foundations project on Wednesday, 4 May to find out more. “This is a prime example of intuitive and formative thinking. Prevention work around offending is one of my key priorities in my new Police, Crime & Community Safety Plan for Norfolk. By delivering such effective support for ex-offenders, Foundations enables people to settle and look towards the future thus building stronger, safer communities.”
Foundations is built on the belief that when people are released from custody they should have a safe, high quality home to go to, promoting feelings of self-worth and dignity.
Data identified a ‘revolving door’ cohort of clients who bounced between prison, the streets, hostel accommodation and back to prison. These are people at a high risk of reoffending and becoming trapped in a cycle of homelessness. Complex issues might include past trauma, addiction, and abuse. Their histories can often mean services are reluctant to engage with them.
Set up at the start of the pandemic, statistics for Foundations show that offending has reduced. Foundations is part of wider projects working with Norwich City Council so that decent homes are provided for people so they are no longer on the street.
High quality properties are provided by Broadland Housing Group and referrals into the project from Norfolk Probation Service.
Project workers make sure that everything is ready as soon as clients move in, including all white goods and furnishings. The properties are finished to a high standard, with crockery, bedding and other items purchased to make the house a home. It can be a new experience for the clients to take pride in their home, or the first time they have been valued enough to be trusted with a property. The intention is that this empowers them to take control of their lives.
Foundations client Justin is 37 and has been a prolific offender throughout his life. The St Martins team first met Justin when he was homeless in 2014 following the breakdown of an 18-year relationship with his partner. He left his family home and reverted back to offending behaviour that was instilled during his childhood, resulting in numerous small offences, usually to fund his drug use. For years, Justin bounced between hostels and short prison stays, with increasing paranoia and mental distress. This cycle was broken when Justin moved into a one-bedroom flat within the Foundations project. His illicit drug use appears to have stopped now he is on a maintenance prescription, and he is engaging positively with services. He budgets well, shops independently and his flat is clean and tidy.
Built into the project is support from a health navigator who works alongside the clients to help them to attend appointments. Often long term health conditions are masked by a chaotic lifestyle. Once a person becomes settled in their accommodation, it’s not uncommon for health problems to come to the fore so it is crucial that people are supported into getting the treatment they need.
Foundations give people the potential to achieve a place in the community, whereas they were perceived as a burden to society before in terms of court costs, policing and community safety.
For some people it’s the first time they've ever been able to set goals. Whereas previously Justin lived from day to day - sometimes hour by hour - he now cares for his son, and has a long term intention to get custody of him.
*Foundations has attracted national recognition. The project was highly commended in the Homeless Link Awards 2021 category ‘prevention into action’.