Q&A: Meet our new trustee Natalie Atkinson

Monday, 7 April 2014 - 8:33am

Natalie Atkinson became a Homeless Link trustee last November, bringing personal experience of homelessness to our Board for the first time. We talked to her about life, her work and the homelessness sector. 

Natalie Atkinson

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

After leaving residential care on my sixteenth birthday I experienced homelessness, sofa surfing and staying wherever I could. I was living a chaotic lifestyle, so I would constantly be moving accommodation (from flats and bed and breakfast accommodation to friends’ houses and shared properties) or being evicted. I was never suitable for supported housing schemes due to my offending history, and I always felt that I was never given a chance to ‘prove myself’ and be accommodated in this way.

I’m currently living in private student accommodation, as I’m in my last year of university. The consistent support I’ve received from important people in my life has been a big factor in me getting to where I am now. Those people include my youth offending team worker and various third sector support workers - as well as my friends. I also believe I’ve progressed because I was so determined to succeed, and to be in a position to help others in similar situations.

What really drives you to work in the homelessness sector? 

Having experienced homelessness and an unsettled way of life first-hand, I feel I’m able to understand and relate to individuals who are in the position I was once in. I enjoy working in the supported housing and feel passionate about offering help, guidance and advice. I hope I’m in a position to empower individuals to go on and live an independent and happy life. Quite simply, I believe that everyone deserves to have somewhere warm and dry to live; a place that they can call home.

What do you think the homelessness sector currently does well?

I feel that the homelessness sector is proactive even in current conditions, when funding is being cut, benefit changes are occurring and a lot of uncertainty exists. Recent campaigns to end rough sleeping, and multi-agency work with those with multiple and complex needs, are both real positives.

In your view, what's the greatest challenge facing homelessness services today?

The current economic climate is extremely testing for the homelessness sector: Funding cuts are being made, and services are being reduced as a result.

The introduction of the ‘bedroom tax’ has had a negative effect on many individuals who are claiming housing benefits. It’s also having a knock-on effect on individuals in supported accommodation who are trying to move to independent living, as there a very few one bedroom properties.

Universal Credit will also pose a new challenge when it is rolled out, as I believe more people will struggle with budgeting and paying accommodation costs.

Finally, what do you think could most improve the homelessness sector?

I would make supported housing more accessible for people with criminal backgrounds, rent arrears and histories of living chaotic lifestyles. I would also get rid of the ‘bedroom tax’!

Follow Natalie on Twitter @nat89atk