Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Rowan Alba

April 02 2010
One Edinburgh charity is making headway with offering the right kind of support The move from the streets into a tenancy can be daunting, and without a helping hand it may not always work out. Rowan Alba is one of the leading charities whose services bridge the gap between sleeping rough to feeling secure at night, and with their focused objectives they are helping people take a big step in the right direction.

Although established relatively recently (September 2005), staff and board members of Rowan Alba have have a wealth of knowledge and understanding, encompassed in a two-fold approach: firstly, to provide a number of services that offer people the opportunity to improve their quality of life through greater independence, and secondly, to offer high quality housing for those people living on the street or in hostels.

At Thorntree Street accommodation in Edinburgh, secure housing is provided alongside regular support. One of the priorities is to house individuals facing multiple exclusion. Rowan Alba identified a number of rough sleepers in the city who had been banned from all other shelter provisions. Working to resolve this, the charity developed a project to offer excluded service users the opportunity to have their own tenancies with floating support attached.

24-hour staffing and a high ratio of support workers to clients has made the scheme a success, with just a single case of eviction in the past five years.

"Support is offered on a non-judgmental basis, and motivational interviewing techniques employed by support staff can offer support in an enabling way, with service users drawing on their own capabilities to deal with their situation," a charity spokesperson told The Pavement.

The security of tenure is cornerstone of Thorntree Street, and residents have full Scottish Secure Tenancy agreements. It allows the staff to build working relationships with the tenants, as they encourage them to think about the impact their decisions and behaviour have on their living arrangements.

At present, all of the Thorntree residents are males aged over 50, but the organisation also works extensively with women in vulnerable positions. The Stramullion Service, in West Pilton, was founded in cooperation with the City of Edinburgh Council, and provides private, secure, short-term flats for up to ten women and their children. The close network of support is maintained and assistance is offered with all fundamental decisions, including welfare and benefits advice, budget and debt management, and tenancy maintenance. On top of these core issues there is also a social environment for the women with activities such has cookery courses, jewellery workshops and bingo.

Resettlement services are provided during the tenure to assist in enabling the residents to make informed decisions about their future. At the end of the ten-week period, women requiring additional support are then referred on to Rowan Alba's Sorbus Service or to another agency working to supply long-term tenancies.

Although based in Edinburgh, the work of Rowan Alba stretches much further afield. The floating support service offered to the residents at Thorntree Street and West Pilton is extended to homeless people who may require some form of assistance in Perth and Kinross, Angus, and Dundee. The service is run by nine full-time, and two part-time staff, who operate under a team manager. They work with tenants in these areas to promote self-development, enhance confidence and develop the solutions that are required to maintain tenancies and enhance quality of life.

According to the support workers at Rowan Alba: "We recognise that for people who have been homeless for a long time, it can be difficult to break out of their patterns of behaviour. All services are based on individual need, and this is reflected in the care planning and review process, with the individual right at the centre."

The floating support team provide a flexible service in order to be responsive to the needs and circumstances of different tenants. Focus issues include people who are struggling with alcohol or drugs, have poor social skills or disruptive behaviour, and have learning or physical disabilities, plus many more problem areas. The referrals come from a wide range of sources - social workers, GPs, neighbours and family members have all referred people for assistance in the past. Following the initial meeting to determine exactly what help is required, Rowan Alba staff may then suggest cooperation with other agencies who can offer their expertise as part of the support package.

There are hundreds of reasons for why tenancies may not work out and the offer of a second chance, boosted by regular support and advice, has allowed many homeless people the opportunity for a fresh start in secure accommodation.