Tuesday, 4 December 2012

New Beginnings

A reflection on the end of Housing Options and the Association for Supported Living and new beginnings with the Housing and Support Alliance

A lot has changed for people with learning disabilities since Housing Options started in 1996. This was the time when the long stay hospitals were closing and people with learning disabilities were moving on, living ordinary lives back in their communities…or  so we thought. We knew back then that this shift towards residential care and group homes was only a small step and that many people still weren't living the lives that they should be living.

Housing Options was established to explore what the housing alternatives were to residential care and to help housing and support providers to make them happen. We setup an independent advice service for people with learning disabilities and families so that we could support people to get what they needed, funded by our founding members, Keyring, Advance Housing, Golden Lane Housing, the National Autistic Society, HFT, Dimensions, The Avenues Trust & MCCH. We discovered that people with learning disabilities could buy their own homes, rent ordinary houses, families could fund and develop housing and that people with learning disabilities could make real choices about where they lived and who they lived with- something most of us consider a basic right.

I remember in the early days the scepticism I encountered when speaking to housing, health and social care professionals about the possibilities in housing and support that people had besides the traditional models. Our experience was that by helping people and families put in place a bespoke housing and support solution, that it could transform people’s lives and often save money too. Our challenge back then was to convince people that person centred approaches to housing and support could work and were safe, regardless of the level or type of disability people had.  For each person that we helped get what they want, it was a long and torturous process but slowly people saw that it was possible.

When Valuing People came along in 2001 and it talked about giving people with learning disabilities choice in housing it was felt to be a radical departure from what happened before- but that one line legitimised the work we had been doing that had previously been considered radical. Now of course it is commonly accepted and the language of choice and control springs from our lips and our policies readily. Supporting People then came along with some money attached and there was a race to develop ‘supported living’ and ‘supported housing’ and free people from the limitations of residential care. The Association for Supported Living was set up in 2003 by providers who led in developing supported living including Advance, Choice Support, United Response and others to give a framework to a sector that didn’t really know what it was doing and try and get organisations understanding the values of supported living and what that meant in practice in people’s lives.

Despite the fact that there are more housing choices for people with learning disabilities now, and many examples of people taking control of their lives and great organisations that support them to do this, I am not convinced that our beliefs and practice has really shifted enough across the sector and we still have a long way to go. If real supported living is about people having real choice in where they live, who they live with and how they are supported in tenancies or their own homes, why do we ‘place’ a person in supported living, how can we put an office for staff into someone’s home, why do we call someone’s home ‘a service’ or ‘a unit’ ……..we say that supported living is about people having more control over their lives but the reality is that professionals still have too much control .

Housing Options and the Association for Supported Living have now come together to form the Housing and Support Alliance launched on the 22nd November in Manchester . 
The H&SA wants to raise the stakes when it comes to how people with learning disabilities get housing and support. We want to work with people, families, providers and commissioners to move away from thinking just about service models and start thinking about supporting lives. We want to encourage a changing role for housing and support providers and support them to think wider than just housing and support towards thinking about how they support human rights, equality, relationships and how the right housing and support is the foundation of being a valued and equal member of our communities. If we get the foundations wrong now, we risk creating our future institutions…..

Alicia Wood
Chief Executive, Housing and Support Alliance 
an edited version of this blog was published on the Community Care Website