What has Harrow Citizens achieved?
Advising struggling tenants, enforcing affordable housing guidelines, and supporting the homeless.
The HOUSING ACTION TEAM first met in January 2018 – two Kol Chai members joined forces with five from St John Fisher RC Church. We are now good friends and colleagues.
We began work on :
1. Affordable Housing & Homes for the Homeless. Action: lobbying the Council to ensure that the vast new Civic Centre Development included the mandatory 33% of ‘affordable properties’.
2. Tackling ‘Poor rental conditions under rogue landlords’ was the next project. Action: Our Team produced and distributed an ‘Advice and Help for Tenants’ leaflet. This was delivered to areas of poor quality rental housing in Harrow.
3. Housing the Homeless/The Malachi Project. Since 2020 we have focussed on establishing supported accommodation for eight currently homeless people. Action: discussions with Council leaders and Harrow’s Housing Team has brought success. We have found a suitable site for eight modular homes and are working closely with the Council, the Salvation Army and the Hill Group developers to implement this project by the beginning of 2023.
Once established, we will look to volunteers in our community to visit and support the residents.
Improving Mental Health Services in Harrow
Our initial work focused on developing two Directories of Mental Health Services in Harrow – one for the general population and one setting out services specifically for children and adolescents. We enlisted the help of our three Harrow MPs and the Harrow Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to distribute the Directories to every school in Harrow and every GP Practice.
More recently, we have focussed on developing a relationship with mental health leads in the Central and North West London (CNWL) NHS Trust and we are now a member of the 3rd sector partnerships group hosted by CNWL.
After several years of campaigning and engaging with Council Officers, Councillors, members of the CCG , relevant homelessness and mental health charities in the voluntary sector, we have succeeded in obtaining agreement by the Council to pilot a “one stop shop” medical facility for the homeless and vulnerable in Harrow.
This will be based on the successful model in Watford, the Meadowell Clinic, where people who are homeless and/or vulnerable can receive medical support for their physical and mental health together with a range of support services such as debt relief, housing advice, addiction cessation treatment, nursing and counselling which they can receive under one roof. This will mean that the clinic can centre on the needs of people who typically find it difficult to attend appointments in different locations to the detriment of their health.
We have been invited to join the Working Group set up by Harrow Council’s Homelessness Reduction Board to establish the “one stop shop” and we are currently working on identifying a suitable venue for the pilot. Our aim is to find and open the venue by the end of this year (2022).
Making Refugees Welcome
A small multifaith refugee action team, led by Kol Chai, has had considerable success in collaboration with Harrow Council.
Following the inaugural Harrow Citizens Assembly in 2018, the Council agreed to resettle two Syrian refugee families, provided that Harrow Citizens found an agreeable landlord and also committed to ongoing befriending and other kinds of support, over and above that which its own officers could provide.
Two family sized houses were found through the good offices of St Peter’s Church. Over £10,000 was raised via an online appeal to enable our volunteers to refurbish and equip the houses. The families moved in during summer 2019 and, joined by a third family relocating from Scotland, have begun the process of making new lives. Befriending has proceeded at the pace that the families can accept, as they have all suffered trauma and fear to a greater or lesser extent . Three new Kol Chai volunteers joined as local friends, specifically to provide tuition in English, IT and Maths.
Following the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, we responded positively to the Council’s request to get involved in their commitment to family resettlement on a larger scale than for Syria. This time, private landlords known to the Council have been persuaded to accept Afghan families; the Council have then fully refurbished the flats and houses and we have supplied new items such as bedding, towels, food and electrical appliances – a fresh round of fundraising raised over £3300. In addition, we have sought and received donations of crockery, cutlery, pots, pans and many other household essentials. All of this much valued work has ensured that families move into something like a home and not just a house or flat.
As of May 2022, eight Afghan families have been resettled under the two applicable Government Schemes, but the Council believes the demand is strong enough that in due course over 30 families might settle in Harrow. In order to continue to respond positively, we have successfully strengthened our volunteer team across the five participating communities and arranged a local commercial storage facility. Council funding has been sought for the storage and new purchases. We hope to have formal agreement shortly, following a delay associated with the change in political
leadership at Harrow Council.