From a certain perspective, combating homelessness is at the heart of almost all of Hightown’s work. Mostly our activities are preventative, by offering suitable affordable or supported housing for those in need. However, in St Albans, where house prices are high and availability is low, we operate a handful of dedicated services which support homeless people to piece their lives back together.
Hightown's three homeless services (Open Door, Kent House and Martin House) would not exist today without the altruism of a band of St Albans volunteers who mobilised in the 1960s in the public outcry that followed the broadcast of ‘Cathy Come Home’.
Johnny L’anglois, a local café owner, opened his doors to homeless men in need of food and shelter in the early 1960s. Through his perseverance, in 1983 the St Albans Martin Trust was founded, opening a service for 25 homeless men, and to this day his children continue his work at Martin House.
The founders of St Albans & District Churches Housing Association (SADCHA) similarly spent decades working to tackle homelessness in the district. In 1993 their commitment solidified through a partnership with the Open Door Charity, which saw SADCHA take on management of the Open Door emergency nightshelter. Five years later, SADCHA would also celebrate the construction of Kent House, a new homelessness service for up to 20 men and women.
SADCHA and the St Albans Martin Trust merged with Hightown in 2003 and 2009 respectively, bringing the three services together and setting Hightown among the leading providers for the homeless in St Albans. Since then we have enhanced these services, refurbishing both Kent House and Open Door and launching a ‘Safer Streets’ Outreach Service for rough sleepers in 2010.
At these services, homeless people are able to rebuild their lives: with access to shelter and amenities, counselling, and training, we have supported thousands to into work, out of drug or alcohol addiction and into independent, settled accommodation.
Though currency cannot truly measure the value of this work, our 2016 Social Impact Report demonstrated that these services are saving our partners in the health, police and public services up to £600,000 per year.
2016 saw Hightown form the Homes for Cathy Group: an alliance of housing associations, whose aim was to mark the 50th anniversary of the BBC drama that sparked our work and campaign to keep homelessness on the political agenda.