Aid & Abet
Scottish Churches Housing Action returns to the Homeless Spotlight to highlight Aid & Abet, its peer mentoring for people leaving prison to live in Edinburgh & Lothian.
Aid & Abet brings together an active and committed group of people who have been through offending, prison and addiction. Since March 2015, they have made contact with around 60 people about to leave prison, or who have recently been released. Their aim is to make sure that each one has somewhere to stay and some money in their pocket on the first night after release, and to stick with them through the challenging first few days of freedom.
Scottish Churches Housing Action chief executive Alastair Cameron has supported the development of the project since it got under way in June 2014.
He explains the background: “Homelessness and prison are intimately connected – homelessness feeds prisons, and prisons feed homelessness. Breaking that cycle means individuals making change, so they need to be able to see that change is possible. Aid & Abet mentors show that – they have each taken that first step out of prison after a sentence. They are in recovery, so they know what it’s like to break old habits. They work closely with professional workers, but they offer something extra – not least that they’re available out of office hours.”
A key part of the job of mentoring is to link up with other organisations. Mentors chum newly-released prisoners to interviews at the homelessness office, or help sort out benefits. But their training helps them recognise when they need to pass a case on to someone with specialised skills. “We rely on organisations like Lifeline,” says Bruce. “They refer people to us, and in turn, we make sure clients know what Lifeline can offer them. We open doors to recovery fellowships, and refer people to recovery services when appropriate. When it comes to housing, or getting work, we’ll put people in touch with agencies that help.”
The experience of the mentors is crucial to their credibility. It’s because they have been in a similar situation that they know first-hand the pressures people face on leaving prison. Over the first three days, they focus on the basics – housing, benefits, and, where it’s needed, recovery. Inevitably, there have been ups and downs. “Meeting an Aid & Abet mentor is no guarantee that someone won’t return to prison,” says Alastair. “But some are sticking with the mentors, and we’ve seen people stay out a lot longer than the professionals expected.”
Up to now, mentors have been volunteers. But ambitions go beyond that: “If this job is worth doing, it’s worth being paid for,” Alastair points out. “We are in discussion with a number of organisations about funding the service – statutory bodies who benefit from the work as well as charitable trusts. It’s great to see progress on that front.”
Aid & Abet is also benefiting from community fundraising. In November, a lively night of music, dance and poetry in Leith raised over £700 for the work. Some of this was used to subscribe to the Fareshare project, which will provide food packs to clients who leave the jail with almost nothing.
The Aid & Abet core planning group has met fortnightly since June 2014: there are currently seven members, with a further three recognised mentors, and more in training. The work of the group will featured at the recent meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Housing, along with training partner Positive Prison, Positive Futures.
The project is currently operated through Scottish Churches Housing Action, though plans are in hand to establish it as an independent charity.