My last week at The Passage was full of meetings with representatives of the various organisations that I had contacted over the preceding weeks. If nothing else this gave me an excellent opportunity to visit some parts of London that I hadn’t previously been aware of. Fortunately the majority of my meetings were extremely useful and provided a new perspective or some new information.
One issue that I discovered through these interviews was the problem of supported accommodation beds being occupied by EEA nationals who are in fact ready to move on. These residents are covered by the saving section of the new legislation which exempts those who were in receipt of housing benefit before the legislation came in to force. However this saving clause ceases to apply when a client makes a new claim. Moving to a different local authority necessarily involves making a new claim but it is possible to move within a single local authority. For residents in central boroughs such as Westminster private rents are unaffordable so they cannot move on within their local authority and if they moved they would no longer be eligible for housing benefit. Previously people recovering from homelessness would be expected to move from supported accommodation in central London to private accommodation in less central areas due to the lack of affordable accommodation in the centre; this pathway has now been disrupted.
I often found that the people I was interviewing would repeat opinions and stories that I had heard from other workers in the sector. This was encouraging as it indicated that these opinions were not baseless and the issues they reflected were not isolated. For example the predicament explained above was alluded to both by a commissioner at Westminster City council, the submission of evidence to SSAC by St Mungo’s, the manager of a housing program and a representatives of several day centres.
As well as providing information for my report the interviews enabled me to develop a number of useful skills, not least of which was budgeting my time carefully where the London Underground was involved. I learnt the necessity of having questions prepared; a practise that became easier as time wore on since I found that the certain questions were getting useful responses while others were simply too general and could lead to a long talk that was not eventually relevant to my report. Keeping a meeting on focus was therefore another ability that naturally became useful. Finally and perhaps trivially I got a great deal of practise at taking just the right amount of notes; that is, enough that I retain the relevant information but not so much that the interviewee thinks I am recording him verbatim, in which case he may become reticent.