Homes

Women Coming from Prison – Challenging Support Frameworks

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Over the last few weeks, I have been working with CRI following a successful tender bid to Lancashire County Council for recovery services in East Lancashire. Consisting of a brand new model, with a raft of local organisations involved, this is a radical and bold model to support people throughout East Lancashire in all areas of their life. SHE and INCAS are proud to be part of this consortium and for a little organisation that has struggled to survive, we are able to move forward under this localised model that centres around families, housing, clinical, education and training needs of people.

The North West has rolled out early adoption schemes – the first in which SHE & INCAS ran under, was the North West Recovery Housing – Through the Gate scheme called Gateways. Under this, SHE and her bigger brother, INCAS, accommodated men and women coming through the gate into safe and affordable housing. Fifteen providers of different models of accommodation were part of the scheme. Gateways was our first outing as a local provider of services and it was an interesting scheme.

For me, Gateways, although now ceased, left a legacy, if not a gap. That legacy taught me as a practitioner, working with one of the most overlooked group of people in prison, women in prison, how to manage being a part of a founding member of a consortium providing vital services. SHE Project has been a part of my DNA since I was homeless, serving a prison sentence in the community. (Yes, you hang em and flog em crowd, a suspended sentence carries as much as weight as a custodial sentence)  I live and breathe the Project and still, nearly two years since SHE opened her doors, SHE runs through my blood like fat through streaky bacon. I have fought, battled and continue to do so. Largely against many odds and barriers.

SHE Project does not fit into any group of services. SHE has been the leaf blowing around on a blustery night. LA loved her, then they wondered about her, then oddly, they disliked her. But SHE has kept going. Looking back, I am not sure how SHE has survived.

But SHE has.

Why has she? Because SHE is right down and dirty with understanding the local socio-economic dynamics of her geographical area. Add to that, a vital understanding of the needs of women emerging from behind the walls too high to see over.

There is a need for local services. There is little room for a blanket approach on what women need coming from prison. It isn’t enough to be rolling out services from the halls of Parliament or academics who have studied women’s needs. It isn’t enough to tell women what they need – it’s local services where women can feel safe to say “This is what I need, can you help me?”

If we were to break down to each local or district authority, a map of services, there would be a very different graph and demographic image of needs in areas.  What works in the Home Counties, will not work in Cumbria. Models that do work, are not area-specific. It is simply they are fantastic models that work.

Properly resourced and funded local services that meet the needs of their local communities will welcome home women and men coming back to their communities from prison. I cannot bang this drum enough. The moment a woman leaves prison is the moment she belongs in the community she wishes to live in. It is vital she has services to turn to.  Just as any member of the community is able to.

It is time for funding to cease being the bidding pool it has become. It is time for commissioners and grant-givers to ensure local services are fully resourced and able to survive. Let local services care for their own. It’s time.

 

 

 

 

Coaching Behind Bars….. By Clare McGregor

Working in the community with women who have been in custody is challenging yet rewarding work. However, what goes on behind the scenes through a different set of eyes is narrated by Clare McGregor in this sparkling, entertaining (perfect for cross country train journeys where every stop feels like counting milestones on foot) book.

Clare McGregor is the brains behind Coaching Inside & Out initiative. Having come across Clare two years ago whilst serving my sentence, I have followed her on that social media place where folks sing like canaries.

My utter delight when coming across Clare’s book involved a little dance around my office chanting “Now she’s gone and written a book” and I totally understand why. Women from HMP Styal are referred into SHE as the resettlement prison for the North West. I have a natural affinity with Styal due to SHE’s women and listening as we do “on the other side”  A few clicks later, I had ordered the book and it came in a couple of days.

As I do with all our books, I immediately write in the front: “Office Copy – Not To Be Removed”  I waved it around lots telling and threatening removal of sugars in coffee should it be missing from our book shelf. (I took it home, so don’t tell anyone okay?)

On Monday, I travelled to Cambridge. What a bastard of a journey. I had some documents to read, some writing to do, alas Cross Country Trains aren’t so generous with the internet speed – emails get sent if one is lucky.

I peered in my book and there it was. I had my train coffee (or what passes for coffee) and as I was on page 18 from a mosey through the first few pages on arrival, I was happy to get stuck in.

Coaching – How very American and for the rich only…. But no wealth or status has the cornerstone on being coached. Why not coach women who are in the vice-like grip of the prison estate? Women who have been through crisis that could make even the hardiest of persons wither. Clare with her 20-year background in service creation has blended women which society forget with her two-decade experience into this fabulous page-turner.

I don’t coach our women – I plainly support them in accommodation – nag them about the dentist, the doctor, help them with bank accounts, listen when they are pissed off with their Probation Officer and talk about gaining employment. But, Clare’s book has highlighted in beautiful words, the power of these women responding to coaching. The words of Clare resonate in my work – SHE women shout – Prisons are noisy places and to be heard, these women need to shout – I hear myself saying on our corridor when other organisations say “Tracey’s lot are noisy” Yes they are – I think you would be, locked up with a few hundred other women. Still, social boundaries are one area that coaching helps with. Clare’s book describes women imagining themselves on sunny beaches, eating ice-cream and watching the waves crash. The chapter “Problems” describes what I hear from SHE women on release – fear of coming home, family disowning them, seeing their children and the worry of gaining employment. Clare describes indepth, how these women are supported in navigating the quagmire of life on the inside and the outside through coaching.

This is truly a beautiful read and had me laughing and crying, but in such an uplifting way. I could relate to all the women’s narratives and I hear them daily from SHE Women. Of course, our women want to read it and I might have to learn to trust my book will be returned for others to read.

A superb read and comes highly recommended for anyone who has a curiosity about women in prison and an excellent insight for organisations who work with women in the community following a custodial sentence.

 

Clare Mc

Clare’s book can be purchased here

The Day of Coming Home

Nine months on from opening the doors of SHE, changes within the project are evident to me.  Changes have occured with me questioning how & when they happened.

That said, one of the areas that remains unchanged is the day of coming home. Back in September, the day of coming home was chaotic for us and for our lasses. I put this down to us being new and finding our feet. Now, we are much more prepared and services on gate pick up work with us and are addressing the importance of accommodation on this overwhelming day for women moving into accommodation.

SHE accepts referrals from Police, Probation, CRC and the day of arrival for the short-term releases are crammed with appointments.

This day features highly for me. Our lasses are picked up, brought home, a raft of appointments and moving into a home happens on this day. Once a month, I release a bed capacity sheet to our local Community Safety Partnership (CSP) which in turn informs services of beds & addresses. Services refer into available bed spaces and our office prepare, complete our paperwork and SHE takes the wheel of addressing accommodation needs. It is a busy day for all involved. We ensure everything in the houses works safely, welcome packs, bedding, telly works, food in the fridge, and a fresh set of towels.

Our existing lasses help me to prepare a room for a new referral and the first weekend involves welfare calls & checks are made. A busy day and we at SHE have, after nine months, got this down to military precision.

I always like to welcome our lasses into their new accommodation and what has struck me most is how these women have so much thrown at them in one day. Long gone are the days of opening the prison gates and a solitary figure walking out & stepping into the unknown.  The Day of Coming Home is packed to the rafters of busyness and activity. Managed with appointments, streamlining, almost cattle herding. (I dare say it & I have)

But what has struck me, is this day is always Friday. It is SHE who takes over at the weekend. This of course is what we are there for. The first weekend is always busy, maybe the boiler breaks down, out of everybody’s control. This alone is an issue for any person. As luck would have it, we have a 24-hour service, it can be repaired. The first weekend is busy and of course, in shared accommodation, it is difficult getting to know other people in the house. I do worry that each house resident feels able to address issues within and we are there to help them through. I do care. Offering a service is very different from accepting a service and it is SHE women who have to live within what is a new environment. Our house meetings are there for that reason, support should there be in-house issues. There are and have been.

The Day of Coming Home is fraught with activity for all members of SHE & it is the best part for me. As Rehabilitation is still used so widely and features in Payment by Results, SHE retains an understanding of what it is like on the Day of Coming Home.

Image kindly provided by Jen McNeil 

East Lancashire Moves Towards Recognising Importance of Housing in Rehabilitation

LogoColorTextRight SHE Project is keeping me busy. Back in February, I attended a Through The Gate conference to discuss housing for released prisoners. I was pleased to hear the importance of housing in resettlement plans. While funding is a thorny topic, housing affects society over a much wider scope. Or shall we say, lack of housing.

SHE is slowing building housing stock. Acommodation is awarded following a referral process. The Project offers furnished homes in the community on a shared basis. All residents are risk-assessed and are offered stable accommodation in homes to begin journeys to brighter futures.

Alongside accommodation, SHE offers a range of support services such as registration with a local GP, setting up of bank accounts, house meetings, a repairs procedure, benefit application assistance & free use of telephone line to call agencies. Working closely with local authority Housing Needs & the Community Safety Partnership, the Project reports into these local authority departments with regular updates and capacity reports. Burnley Borough Council have welcomed the service and along with other agencies, small steps are being made.

SHE also offers work-based schemes. SHE residents are welcomed by the community. With the support of Burnley, Pendle & Rossendale Council for Voluntary Services who offer community-based courses, treatment services for stress-related conditions, SHE women have support on tap.

Of course, we are dealing with people. And with people come issues. These are addressed with the fabulous team who key-work with our residents.

Working with INCAS, SHE is now tapping into empty homes. Burnley, for example has a large number of empty homes that are boarded up. SHE/INCAS are looking at building their own maintenance team to bring these houses back into community use.

On offer to residents, as part of their care plan is volunteering to paint empty homes. This in-house pilot is to explore creating jobs to work within the project. Building and renovating a house to create a home is exciting and further development in this area is in place.

In the research and development of this project following my experiences of homelessness post-sentence, a home was the hardest area to acquire. SHE & INCAS have worked hard to tidy up the pathway into homes. We have referral pathways and developing partnerships with Lancashire Constabulary, HMPS, Lancashire County Council & Burnley Borough Council.

Accommodation on release has been an area that has been largely ignored throughout many parts of the country. It is not easy to get a home for most of society, add convictions, sofa surfing becomes the default setting. SHE & INCAS have made baby steps in removing the barriers. In East Lancashire, slowly, this area is opening up.

There is a lot of talk on housing and while SHE/INCAS do not have all the answers, our results show that stable accommodation in the community does work. My time in a hostel motivated me to work on the female model after drying myself on a bath mat as I was not given towels. We gather donations from people in the form of toiletries, the project provides bedding, towels, sanitary items to mention a few items that make all the difference. Local TV aerial fitters are working with us to supply our properties so our residents have an environment resembling what most people take for granted.

It is almost two years since my ideas were written on a tatty notepad from a canal bank, but the best part is, the support of our local community, the BPRCVS, Police, CSP and East Lancs CRC.

Housing for those released from prison is a thorny topic along with being a migraine for those coming through the gate & other supporting agencies. And rather than it be banged at the doors of Westminster constantly, a small group of community members can and do make a difference.