Charity repossesses empty houses and turns them into flats for the homeless

A charity has welcomed its 50th tenant under a scheme that repossesses empty properties and turns them into homes for the homeless.

The Homelife project, which is run by the Team Valley-based group Changing Lives, was funded by the Government’s Empty Homes Programme.

And this week – after 58 uninhabited houses across Tyneside were bought up in the 18 months since the charity received the funding – the scheme reached a half century of new tenants.

The man, named only as “David”, sough help to kick a drug habit after he was released from prison in 2012.

And now, having turned his life around, he has moved into a new flat in Willington Quay, North Tyneside.

I had problems with drugs,”he said. “I came out of prison in 2012 and I got into the Oak Tree project, which is a non-residential rehabilitation scheme.

“My life started changing from then on. The support has been immense. I’ve advantage of every service they’ve offered.

“It feels exciting to be in my own place now. It’s a fresh start. This is a bridge to normal living.”

David, 27, from South Shields, was in prison for two years for committing grievous bodily harm, but he now hopes to soon become a support worker.

“I’ll be talking to people who have had similar problems,” said David. “Someone did it for me and if they hadn’t, it could have been a very different story, so I want to do that for someone else now.

“I like working, it takes me out of my own head. I’m not the same person today. It’s amazing.

“I thought I was in control before but now things are so much better.”

The charity, which aims to have taken on 120 houses by March 2016, said the project has been a huge success across Tyneside, helping to house around 75 people in the last year.

Val Nevin, assistant director at Changing Lives, said repossessing the empty houses had benefited the community in a number of ways.

The houses we buy-up have been empty for at least a month, but many of them, like this one, have been lying empty for years,” she said.

“These properties were a mess so for the neighbours it’s also been a relief. It’s nice to have it renovated and brought back into use.

“And we’ve had really good feedback from people who have moved into the flats. They’ve got a ready made, quality home, and we only charge 80% of the local housing allowance, so they are affordable.”

The project, which has seen families from across Tyneside rehoused into brand-new affordable flats, is also designed to get clients of the charity working on the projects.

James McBurnie, who works as a builder and decorator on the Homelife project, said making homes for people who have had similar problems to him gave him immense satisfaction.

I get a lot of job satisfaction when I see people moved into one of the flats I’ve helped renovate,” said the 25-year-old from Sunderland.

I was in prison in 2009 for attempted robbery, and I’ve been in and out of prison all my life, but when I got out the charity helped me get support for my drug misuse and alcohol misuse.

“I had to try and sort my life out and stop re-offending and they gave me the opportunity to have some stable work.

“There’s a very fine line between being on the straight and narrow and slipping back into that life, and I think I could help other people that have been in the same sort of situation as me.”

The charity are urging communities around the country to follow their example. Val said: “It’s such a good scheme and it’s making a difference to so many people.

“More and more people around the country should be taking on this project.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 03 Dec 2014

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