Raji Hunjan, Chief Executive
The story that broke this week of the homeless man who died outside Westminster Station particularly hit a nerve with us at Zacchaeus 2000 Trust. We are based in Westminster and work every day with our clients in a crisis stage of homelessness. But we know it’s not just about short-term solutions, and we fight to keep people off the streets for good.
On January 3rd, a homeless man was referred to us for our Private Rented Sector (PRS) scheme. He was interviewed by my colleague Jamie at 10 o’clock, and by 12 o’clock Jamie was making calls to landlords – with whom we have developed good relationships over the years – to see if there was an appropriate property in the right area.
Jamie negotiated a reduction in the rent because our client had been hit by the benefit cap and was unable to pay any more. We then asked the landlord to send one of his representatives to the property straight away; we gave our client the bus fare from our relief of poverty fund and sent him down to view the property.
By 2pm, we had a match!
We negotiated the contract with the landlord, and applied to Westminster Council for rent in advance – a housing benefit application followed a few days later. By the end of the day, on January 3rd, having only met him for the first time that morning, our client was housed.
Really positive story, isn’t it? If only it was always so easy.
At Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, we work with people who are continually fighting poverty and homelessness against a backdrop of welfare reforms and deep cuts in benefits that put an enormous stress and strain on their lives and chances of moving on. Despite our despair and lack of resources as a small, anti-poverty charity, not only do we help people to fight for their rights, we also work to assist many to access housing in the PRS.
Our PRS project began in 2013, and since then we have successfully placed close to 300 people in suitable accommodation. We want the numbers to be higher than this. We want to help more people and get more people housed.
But there are so many factors that work against us.
Firstly, the system. When we are referred a client to be housed, we will always start by establishing if a statutory duty is owed to them: if it is, we will help them get the support they are owed; if not, we will help them through our PRS scheme. But the system is complex and full of hurdles. Only when we know a client understands all their rights and options, do we start the PRS process.
Secondly, high rents. It is tough to find landlords who accept people on housing benefit. And it is near impossible to find anything in central London that is suitable for anyone but single people, or possibly a single parent with a baby – the properties are just too small.
Thirdly, our resources. We are a small charity with a turnover of just £600,000; we do not take government funding and we are constantly fundraising for new sources of income. The housing sector has many large, established charities that can advocate and campaign on a much bigger scale than us. Thank goodness they exist and we are pleased to be working with many of them.
But never underestimate the value and purpose of smaller charities, working in-depth with fewer clients, but contributing to the bigger picture to stop another homeless person dying in full view of all of us.
We are grateful to Lloyds Foundation, Oak Foundation and others for funding this work.