Drop-outs come in from the cold

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
Education and employment is all part of a new package of prospects for the homeless, reports Raymond Ross

Getting young homeless people into accommodation is not in itself a solution to the problem.

"It is not enough. You have to provide training, education and employment prospects," says Ken Milroy, chief executive of Aberdeen Foyer, a local charity which has recently launched a national pilot programme to get people who have been homeless re-engaged in education and training.

With pound;400,000 funding from the Scottish Executive, Outside In is a residential programme for 16- to 25-year-olds, which aims to equip them with transferable learning skills that will enhance their opportunities and motivation to access further education, training and work.

Set up in 1992, the Foyer Federation supports 130 Foyers across the UK, providing accommodation integrated with education and training opportunities for some 10,000 16 to 25-year-olds.

The federation's figures show 25 per cent of their residents had stopped going to school by 14 and 50 per cent had no qualifications at all on entry to a Foyer, usually as a result of the family circumstances in childhood and adolescence which led to their eventual homelessness. "You have to tackle their economic status. That is the heart of the Foyer approach,"

says Mr Milroy.

"You need to boost their self-esteem and give them the skills which will make them successful tenants and help them progress towards education andor employment."

The Outside In programme, which was launched in England last year and in Scotland and Northern Ireland this year, is aimed specifically at clients who lack the confidence and motivation to take up full-time training or education.

Outside In is not about emergency housing. It has to be a considered choice. A three-stage filtering process begins with an interview leading to building a picture of the client's trainingemployment aspirations and closing with a formal offer.

"We will sometimes take someone we believe to be in a vulnerable position due to overcrowding or family break-up. A person doesn't have to wait to be badged homeless, but it does have to be a considered decision on both sides."

The Aberdeen programme was launched last month with 34 resident learners who have signed up to a learning plan tailored to their needs and at their own pace.

Secure accommodation in quality flats at one of two city sites is provided to the returning learners. Each complex has a "training flat" with IT resources where individual tuition or group work can take place. Aberdeen Foyer also has a separate training resource centre, which includes a recording studio, an IT suite and a gymdance studio.

Within two years, the programme should lead to a City and Guilds qualification (a certificate in learning power) for each learner, based on four accredited modules and a portfolio for each participant. The training is flexible, ranging from one-to-one tuition to group work and individual study. Each learner has a support worker, but they also receive guidance from a range of counsellors and staff trained in community health issues, housing issues and education support.

"Outside In is about the start of the process, addressing the person's specific needs and where they want to go to: the skills they'll need to keep a tenancy, to deal with personal issues, relationship issues and social and recreational activites as well as employment training," says Mr Milroy.

"Within two years the clients will ideally be moving into work or full-time education through the programme, which is being quality assured by Aberdeen College," says Mr Milroy.

"Altogether, we have 80 tenancies in Aberdeen, Banchory, Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Stonehaven, where our young people take part in schemes like the Prince's Trust, Progress2Work and New Deal.

"Since we opened our first accommodation in 1998, Aberdeen Foyer has housed and supported more than 1,000 young people, including single parents, care leavers, ex-offenders and those who have or have had drug- or alcohol-related problems, learning difficulties or mental health issues,"

he says.

Although it is too early to judge the success of Outside In, Aberdeen Foyer's success stories to date include a mother who left school with no qualifications but was helped to re-engage with learning at home and went on to complete a degree at Aberdeen University, and a young man who had been in care since the age of nine, was labelled uncontrollable, abandoned his council flat after a month (at the age of 17) and ended up on the street. He is now an apprentice bricklayer and thinking about buying his own home.

As well as helping to train and educate the young people, Outside In will enable Aberdeen Foyer to put 12 of its own staff through further training to gain a City and Guilds certificate in Supporting the Development Needs of Homeless People.

With the aid of Stevenson College in Edinburgh and Glasgow College of Nautical Studies, the three-year pilot will also benefit residents at Edinburgh Cyrenians and Glasgow Simon Community.

Aberdeen Foyer is hopeful the pilot will be extended and rolled out across the country.

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