Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice

PAUL BROWN (Essex CRC)

PAUL BROWN (Essex CRC)

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COMMENDEE 2015-16: Paul is granted a Commendation for the high level dedication, skill and creativity he has brought to all aspects of his role as a Housing Liaison Officer with Essex CRC.

Paul Brown receives his Commendation for his outstanding contribution as a Housing Liaison Officer for the South Essex Delivery Unit of the Essex Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC).

As his nominator Jo Routh, a manager in his office, explains: “one of the most important roles, and at the same time one of the most difficult, in the array of work we do to protect the public is that of ensuring that accommodation is available for those who in any community would find it difficult to be housed. Without a roof over a head at a particular time, the likelihood of sometimes serious reoffending is strong. Of our highly-valued Housing Liaison Officers, Paul Brown stands out, for his energy, knowledge, reliability and sheer hard work that can make him a rock in a storm when the potential for serious harm is recognised, and yet the solution is seemingly unavailable.”

Jo cites two examples, of many, which bring alive the kind of exceptional work Paul does:

“A service user, currently in Approved Premises, who had a previous history of very high risk sexual offending with children, needed to move on soon. This began a six month-plus battle to find suitable accommodation.  MAPPA [Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements] only approved limited funds to facilitate move-on and Paul made an application to the Essex Trust Fund to make this a more realistic sum.  He then began a search throughout Essex and the surrounding areas to find suitable accommodation.  On two occasions he identified properties but Essex Police deemed them unsuitable.  Further properties were found but the service user, on visiting them, disclosed his offending locally so they also became unsuitable.

“Twice, emergency Approved Premises places were found to extend the necessary public protection.  Paul is clear that he didn’t do this work alone, but his oversight, impetus and his overall knowledge of what was happening kept the momentum going and avoided homelessness or worse, a return to custody after re-offending. He acted as a conduit between all the Essex Housing Liaison Officers and the Offender Manager managing the case, in a bid to open up as many possibilities as he could. He provided timely updates as well for MAPPA. He finally found suitable accommodation in the last few weeks of the search.

Paul’s determination ensured that a very high-risk offender was, and continues to be, safely managed in the community.”

The second example concerns “a young 18 year old boy with extreme learning difficulties. With a diagnosis of ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder], he has spent much of his younger years in Special Educational institutions. He was very much a boy, with a learning age about 10 years less than his real age, and his offending centred around under-age sex. The situation arose where he was staying with his natural mother and step-father in overcrowded conditions with other young children.  The family didn’t want to make him homeless, but the risk to the young family members was obvious. The local council at first refused to help as they didn’t think he was a priority need. Paul then arranged for Probation, Social Care and Family Mosaic [a large local housing provider] to meet to create an action plan. As the Council still refused to act because of the nature of his offending, Paul set to work with our partner agency Shelter who ultimately threatened the council with a judicial review. It was late in the evening before the council finally agreed to house him, averting his homelessness and risks to siblings. He is now doing well.” As Business Delivery Manager Sam Brenkley said, when writing to Paul: “I just wanted to say a massive thank you for all your assistance… your persistence on his behalf was fantastic and is what achieved him being housed!”

Jo notes that “Paul’s records are littered with similar cases which involve a swift perception of the problem, and then strong determination not to accept ‘no’ for an answer, followed by a commitment to the long haul, anticipating knock-backs, but expecting to get what he wants, and what the community needs, in the end.”

Local Butler Trust Champion, Mary Archer, is also Chief Executive of Essex CRC. She describes how “the effective monitoring and supervision of high-risk offenders is impacted by the limited availability of the facilities they need to build more responsible, safe lives. Housing is a key factor. Paul’s role is to find that elusive suitable accommodation for tenants unwanted by neighbours and housing authorities.”

Mary describes another case, “which Paul himself called ‘a Labour of Love’ (for this read ‘huge effort’)” in which a young man in his mid-20s was described as weak and ineffectual. “Visitors to his flat took advantage of his vulnerability and due to his inability to control his visitors, the place was gradually turned into a Drug Den. He was evicted by the council. Paul arranged a Homeless application to ensure that he was not street-homeless. He was placed in a hotel as an interim measure but he managed to lose this when in temper he began to throw plates about. Paul did the round of the night shelters with [the client], placing him in a succession of them, while negotiating with the Council to re-house him. He also helped to deal with his serious mental health issues via the Criminal Justice Mental Health Team. The council then unlawfully withdrew an offer of accommodation they had made. Paul called in Shelter, and as [the service user] was very vulnerable, it was necessary to collect him from the night shelter and take him on a 70+ mile return journey to his Shelter advice interviews and generally ensure he was where he needed to be. After some five months of constant effort, Paul has ensured that he has been able to move into his own local authority flat. Paul is keeping an eye.”

In Paul’s words, “It’s usually not a quick fix…It can take months of pushing.”  Mary adds, succinctly, “Paul certainly pushes.” She goes on, “we are proud of the work of our Housing Liaison Officers, and Paul stands out even amongst these colleagues as persistent, dedicated, and always willing to travel across the county in order to help a service user access the services they need… His strong relationships with his excellent network of contacts in a range of agencies has enhanced his ability to access housing – that vital component in reducing the likelihood of further offending.”

The problem of achieving suitable accommodation for the least attractive potential tenants is exacerbated, given that housing authorities have their own concerns, and Mary explains that “being successful for nearly eight years in this arduous role, is praiseworthy indeed, and demonstrates his ability to retain respect and admiration in what could be a difficult working relationship with some organisations.”

Emma Mclean, one of Shelter’s senior advisors, says: “I have had the pleasure of working with Paul for more than 7 years.  In that time I have found him to be proactive, pragmatic and passionate in his pursuit of the best outcomes for our mutual clients and for the community.  He often has gone above and beyond to ensure that our vulnerable and socially-marginalised clients get access to justice, escorting them in person some 60 or 70 miles to our offices for legal advice… He has helped countless clients find and keep a home and he is most deserving of any accolade that is being considered.”

Mary reports another case, this time a client being supervised on a Community Order. “She had her door kicked in by a neighbour during the night and was in fear of her life. The assailant, brandishing a knife, was convinced she had drugs on the premises and threatened to kill her for them. She fled to a friend’s house and went straight to Probation the next day.” The client had this to say of Paul: “He listened hard, showed he cared, and pulled out all the stops to get me moved – within a week I was housed in another town. He has since helped me with a difficult landlord, explained to me what they can and can’t do, and I’m settled in. He kept me informed throughout, and he gives you such confidence. He’s brilliant.”

In Mary’s view, Paul “exemplifies the commitment, determination, ability to network and to motivate other organisations to help out – all of which are necessary in this important area of work. Important, and potentially very frustrating. Paul’s success in finding accommodation is admirable. His use of his contacts and his acquired expertise get results. His passion for the work and dogged determination help make people in Essex safer from crime, and our service users safer from committing crime.”

It’s an area that “can cause the most exasperation, given the barriers that exist”, adds Mary, alongside the genuine lack of suitable accommodation, “and it is so important to public safety that we succeed in this.” She concludes by noting that Paul’s work has also received acknowledgment from the High Sheriff of Essex.

Paul calls his role “a mixture of fire-fighting and lengthy planning – particularly with prison/MAPPA releases.” Against a target last year of 82% of offenders being in settled and secure accommodation, Paul scored 94%. Paul explains that “having an offender in secure accommodation takes away an enormous strain from those concerned in offender management”, as well as “feeding directly into the well-being of the offender [it] also reduces risk and the likelihood of further offending.”

Paul would like to see more enhanced supported accommodation, noting that while there are several schemes for the 16-25 age group, there remains a major dearth of such provision for older age groups. Paul is committed to developing ever closer links with Local Authorities’ housing departments as well as other charitable and Third Sector bodies, in his pursuit of excellence – and accommodation.

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