November 22, 2020
From Southampton Solfed (UK)
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People who are made homeless in Southampton are routinely denied access to support due to various conditions that allow the council to wash their hands of a duty of care. The most common of these exceptions is the requirement to give proof of long-term residency in the city.  But they are also failed by the inadequate support they are given. Homelessness housing provision in Southampton is outsourced by the council primarily to two private organisations, the YMCA, and Two Saints Ltd. In this article we’ll talk about Two Saints and their numerous failings.

Two Saints is a housing association; a registered society under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014, with charity exemption. Like similar organisations, Two Saints are landlords. Though unlike regular landlords, they aren’t even beholden to the normal rules over eviction, and because nobody would choose to live with them if they had a better choice, they don’t have to concern themselves with their reputation.

Southampton SolFed was recently working with a teenage couple who had been sleeping rough in a  carpark during the start of the pandemic. One  had been ineligible for support, but as a result of the pandemic, the council gave them housing: deciding to split them up between Two Saints and the YMCA. The young woman was given an ‘E-Bed’, or emergency bed, at Two Saints. This entailed a minimal one page contract.

In May, at the height of the lockdown so far, she was verbally evicted without paperwork, late in the evening, having not knowingly broken any rules and given no recourse to rectify any mistake. Staff told her that the council allowed them to evict her, though the couple doubt this is the case. This is apparently common behaviour for Two Saints. As an ex-staff member has admitted, “Two Saints seem very happy to evict clients”. Indeed, an ex-client told us he had been evicted from one Two Saints property only to be immediately directed to a bed in a Two Saints day centre.

The bizarre and harsh eviction in the middle of an ongoing pandemic was made even crueler by the fact the young woman was pregnant. In reaction to this moral abdication on the part of Two Saints, Southampton SolFed were able to arrange temporary housing in a legal squat, as well as much needed household goods. We have since helped advise the pair while they find a more permanent home, and we are pleased to say that things are looking up for them. But this is no thanks to the people whose job it was to help this couple when they needed it the most. Southampton SF tried to appeal to Two Saints and their directors’ better nature with a request to get in touch with the woman they had made homeless and repeal the eviction, but they did not readmit her into her former accommodation, and even refused to call her.

The directorship of Two Saints is made up of well-meaning middle class professionals who are directors in other housing organisations in London, Bristol and Cornwall, or town and parish councillors in Botley, Tadley and Freshwater. They get to feel like they are doing something helpful, while helping prop up an organisation seemingly designed to do the absolute minimum in  providing support.

The structure of Two Saints is highly dysfunctional, with an internal clique of management who we are told have a large amount of leeway to favour or disfavour their staff and clients as they see fit. One tenant we spoke to was evicted for ‘health and safety’ on turning 18. due to a push-bike in his room, while the rule was not enforced for others. The organisation is evidently more concerned with manufacturing the appearance of good work than actually helping. As one ex-staff member put it, “Duty of care is almost non-existent….but they are on your case whilst doing quality checks.”

Ultimately, as landlords, Two Saints get their main income primarily through housing benefit, with tenants providing a top up rent. If they know a tenant has found work, they make them pay more rent. They also make money through fines and through ‘billing’ for electricity, which is inconsistently receipted. Because homelessness is so high in Southampton, there are always more people to fill beds, so clients can be evicted with the management safe in the assurance that the organisation won’t be out of pocket.

As accommodation, Two Saints properties are generally abysmal. The quality of the fixtures are poor. We have heard stories of blood left on the stairs uncleaned for days. Support is promised to the vulnerable people there, but only sporadically given. A lot rests on the personal virtue of the support workers who receive little in the way of training and a lot in the way of personal abuse from upper management.

The poor structure is endemic to the wider organisation throughout Hampshire, not just the Southampton branch. An ex-worker in Fareham reports that “staff steal all the donations, before the clients even know its donations”. Someone who worked for Two Saints in Portsmouth for three years said “a bullying culture is driving good intentioned staff away”.

We talked to the council’s own homelessness advice helpline, and the man on the call said of our friend’s verbal eviction, “there’s two sides to every story”, but this is a poor excuse from someone who knows they work in a broken system. Everyone needs a home, and the council’s chosen landlords for the most vulnerable in our society, are clearly failing in their  running of these homes.

Solidarity Federation is a tenant and workers union committed to direct action against bad bosses and dodgy landlords. If you have concerns about how yours are treating you or those around you, we could work with you to fight back. Send us an email at southampton@solfed.org.uk and we’ll get back to you ASAP.




Source: Southamptonsolfed.wordpress.com