The London Homelessness Awards, run this year in partnership with the Evening Standard’s Homeless Fund, aim to recognise “creativity and imagination that agencies can bring to services for homeless people”. It is no surprise that The Money House is one of their shortlisted projects in 2021.
Run by charity MyBnk, the project takes young people on housing “pathways” and places them in a simulated living environment, very much like the one they will soon be responsible for. The unique setting, which has been mandated for care leavers by seven London councils, is manned by financial experts and former participants who design and deliver sessions.
Through the project, MyBnk are addressing the shocking reality that one in three care leavers in the UK lose their first home, while one in four find themselves homeless once they turn 18.
While multiple factors might explain how an individual young person ends up sleeping in emergency accommodation, the immediate cause is clear - 83% of evictions are caused by rent arrears.
Nick Smith-Patel, Head of Education at the project, recognises that for the young people participating, who have either been referred to the project by support workers or have referred themselves, “as soon as you mention financial education to them their eyes glaze over.” By Friday, after five days of learning survival money management skills in one of the four hubs across London the project is based in, “they don’t want to leave.”
The success of the sessions is based on “making the financial information the young people need fit their world. Often the participants will not have spoken to an adult for six months, and don’t have the experience from life at home to draw on.”
When learning about the purpose and practicalities of paying tax, their consumer rights, or how to read an electricity meter, the educators use media and pop culture along with fun asides to keep the participants engaged. “Understanding young people’s references is really important” says Mr Smith-Patel.
“We hope not to recreate school, particularly as some participants may not have had the best experience at school. Nor do we want to be preachy. This is about teaching the young people the rules of the game, in a shared language they understand, so that they feel empowered and that they have the information they need.”
Mr Smith-Patel, who has worked at the project since its inception, said the simple reason “that I’ve stuck it out for so long is because it works”.
The statistics show why. A two year independent evaluation found participants were three times less likely to have unsustainable arrears, and that nearly 4,000 thousand vulnerable teenagers had been saved from eviction.
After staying at The Money House, there was a 45% reduction in participants incurring bank charges and missing bills, while 75% now had a current account, and 54% had started saving.
Perhaps the best evidence of The Money House’s effectiveness is the story of Tekisha Henry.
Ms Henry was 18 when she first encountered the project, joining a session as part of her pathway plan out of care and before she moved into a new flat. She remembers “I felt stuck because I didn’t have any friends who were care leavers or had been through the process before. I was paranoid about losing my flat.”
After meeting an assistant at the project who had been through the care system herself and could demonstrate how to get to grips with living independently from experience, Ms Henry gained “a confidence I didn’t have before”. Within weeks she was settled in her own flat and saving money every month.
Ms Henry, who now has the confidence to fulfil her ambition of working with vulnerable people throughout her career, was soon successful in securing a job administering the project at the Tottenham hub.
“I love my job,” she says. “Sometimes when I call up young people they are standoffish about joining the course. As care leavers they have been sent all over the place. I see it as a privilege to be able to tell them I did it a year ago and got my flat within three months.”
MyBnk do not specifically employ former participants, but it was clearly Tekisha’s own confidence and her empathy with young people that made her a perfect fit for the role.
She believes the project’s success in improving outcomes for those who sign up is down to the educators.
Everybody at The Money House is willing to share their own stories, and each educator has a way to bring a realness to the content. The participants trust them because they display their humanity.”
“Expansion is on the cards” for The Money House, Mr Smith-Patel believes.
“We’ve seen it work in London, so now we want to take it to other places around the UK”. With the chance to win up to £30,000 at the London Homelessness Awards, the project has a number of plans to use the money to develop their capacity. These include more training for staff, a relief fund for participants to access in their first few weeks in a new home, and the translation of all their educational materials into the five most spoken refugee languages, helping them to engage those young people for whom English is not their mother tongue.
Expansion in services such as this will be crucial in helping to reduce the shocking propensity of care leavers becoming homeless. As Nick recognises, the problem needs a systemic approach, one he believes should be defined by the housing first model.
“The first thing you do with people in crisis is house them – then you bring in experts like us. With the money it takes to evict someone we can prevent seven evictions. But asking someone to get a job and manage finances without a home is ridiculous and creates a vicious cycle. The housing first model creeping in is going to save lives.”
The London Homelessness Awards will take place on 14th October at the Union Chapel in Islington. To find out more visit http://www.lhawards.org.uk.