The Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk Giles Orpen-Smellie visited St Martins’ Foundations project on May 4th, supporting prison leavers to reintegrate back into Norfolk’s communities, reducing the likelihood of reoffending and homelessness.
Foundations is a locally funded project delivered by St Martins that has attracted national recognition. The project was highly commended in the Homeless Link ‘prevention into action’ awards 2021. High quality properties are provided by Broadland Housing Group and referrals into the project from the Probation Service.
It is vital that when people are released from custody they have a safe place to go. Not just anywhere, but a high quality home that promotes feelings of self-worth and dignity. Foundations partners believe that everyone deserves a home and a chance, no matter what their past.
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 make them too risky; services are reluctant to engage with them.
Set up at the start of the pandemic, Foundations statistics 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.
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’s a new experience for the clients to take pride in their home. This is the first time they have been valued enough to be trusted with a property and 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 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 enables people to settle and look towards the future. Norfolk could be the lead on how the criminal justice housing system could work.
Foundations was commended by the Police and Crime Commissioner as a ‘prime example of intuitive and formative thinking’. It is hoped that longer term commissioning of the project and others will be part of the plan to build stronger, safer communities.