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From Harm to Hope – Housing Associations Need to be firmly in the Mix

Lara Hanson says consultation and collaboration with housing associations will help to fulfil the Government’s 10-year plan to tackle illegal drugs.
Lara Hanson headshot

Lara Hanson, an Associate specialising in housing litigation at Forbes Solicitors, says consultation and collaboration with housing associations will help to fulfil the Government’s 10-year plan to tackle illegal drugs.

Part of the Government’s levelling up plans involve the recently published policy paper, ‘From harm to hope.’ It outlines a strategy for cutting crime and saving lives by taking a new approach to combatting illegal drugs. This includes three fundamental pillars: breaking drug supply chains, delivering a world-class treatment and recovery system, and achieving a shift in demand for illegal drugs.

Various Government departments and organisations, such as the police, local authorities, and education providers, have been tasked with delivering these pillars. This must also involve and empower housing associations to address issues associated with ‘dual diagnosis’ – doing so could create a pathway to realising the policy paper’s ambitions.


Dealing with dual diagnosis

Many housing associations face challenges of residents struggling with both mental health problems and substance misuse. These conditions occurring together is known as dual diagnosis, with recognition of this combination often proving the first step towards understanding very complex and far-reaching problems.

From wide-ranging experience of working with housing associations nationwide, we know that dual diagnosis will often be closely linked to anti-social behaviour. This can include disturbances and disorder in communities caused by people struggling with dual diagnosis, through to violence directed towards these individuals. There are also crimes associated with ‘feeding’ substance dependency and misuse, such as theft, while people suffering dual diagnosis can be exploited as easy targets by criminal gangs.

Unfortunately, exploitation and manipulation of vulnerable people are often the foundations of county lines drug networks and problems such as ‘cuckooing’. The latter is where a victim’s home is taken over by criminals and used as a base for the preparation and distribution of illegal drugs.

Such extensive problems can blight communities and could quite easily be what the Prime Minister is referring to during his opening in the policy paper’s foreword; “it’s much harder to level up a community when criminals are dragging it down”. It’s with this in mind that really shows the value of collaborating with housing associations to deliver the 10-year plan to cut crime and save lives.

Social housing organisations are uniquely placed to identify and address the issues and crimes linked to dual diagnosis. They are in the right position to instigate early interventions that can help people to break cycles of reoffending and crime, and to cut the demand for illegal drugs. However, to achieve this, housing associations need support to properly help those affected by dual diagnosis. Taking this approach could avoid inadvertently moving crime from one community to another.


Helping housing associations

The issues in communities linked to people with dual diagnosis tend to be more obvious than the root cause of problems. It can be more straightforward to label a person as an alcoholic or a drug addict and to attribute crime to this. For example, they shoplifted to pay for drugs, or they were aggressive and caused damage because they drank excessively.  What this doesn’t do is understand the complex relationship between mental health problems and substance misuse.

In cases of dual diagnosis, a person’s mental health problems can be driving substance misuse, which then causes further issues such as anxiety, irritability, lack of self-control and aggressiveness. Substances might be used as a misguided form of remedy or escapism to personal problems that led to the original deterioration in mental wellbeing. It often requires specialist medical or psychiatric training to fully understand such complexities – something housing associations often don’t have direct access to, and expertise which may be provided too far down the line.

Addressing the more visible problems of dual diagnosis, such as anti-social behaviour (ASB), will often involve a sensitive and considered approach. Housing associations will attempt a series of non-legal methods of engaging a resident to attempt to resolve ASB, with this escalating to more formal legal steps if problems continue and escalate.

These steps require collaboration from across a range of health and social organisations to properly support housing associations. Establishing lines of communication and trust with a person suffering dual diagnosis takes time and care, and robust due diligence to minimise any welfare risks. However, effective engagement and building an understanding with a tenant in such a situation can prove the difference between a legally binding suspended possession order being obtained versus an eviction. The former could enable a dual diagnosis resident to remain in their home, as long as they agree to recovery programmes, which should also help prevent ASB and other issues. Whereas an eviction will often leave a dual diagnosis resident unsupported and will export problems and crimes to another community.

The 10-year ‘From harm to hope’ policy paper is built around breaking supply and demand of illegal drugs and advancing rehabilitation and recovery. It, perhaps, should make more allowances for the complexities of dual diagnosis – these seem few and far between in the paper – and should certainly embrace and empower housing associations as part of the policy’s ‘plan on a page’.

Creating a collaborative framework that supports housing associations in effectively engaging dual diagnosis individuals would help break a cycle of crime. It’d inspire a community-first approach to helping those affected by substance misuse, either directly or indirectly, and would drive interventions that solve problems, rather than shifting them around society.

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