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Going to work

A pioneering dutch scheme to move beyond foyers is tackling unemployment and homelessness at the same time – and the UK may follow suit soon, reveals Frank Köster.

There is a substantial group of young people in cities in the Netherlands who risk being bypassed by society, mainly as a result of leaving school early and having difficulties with housing. The problem is similar to that of many cities in the UK.
That was one of the conclusions reached during a two-day visit to London by 30 representatives from local and central government and private organisations from the Netherlands.
For several years, the introduction and development of foyer concepts in the Netherlands was the new approach to tackle the problems of these young people and giving them a future.
Foyers provide, for a certain period, housing, education and personal support for the young residents. But ultimately, a lot of the foyers were not successful. Not for the residents nor, in terms of outcome and political results, for the local governments or partner organisations.
Most foyers’ policies emphasised care, welfare and support, but without a guarantee of a job and housing. There
was insufficient follow-up after residents left the foyer.
That is an important reason why we are focusing on new visions and ideas to handle these problems. The approach of the East Thames Housing Group in Stratford, east London, was and is very inspiring, and is an important step forward in developing society-orientated foyer concepts.
In the Netherlands, we notice that an increasing number of young people are insufficiently qualified to have a chance of making a start in the employment market.
They are often linguistically challenged and lack the necessary social skills to live independently. These people are young, in the age range from about 17 to 27, and on their own.
Yet many sectors in the Dutch employment market, both for profit and non-profit, are struggling with an increasing scarcity of workers. Everything is being tried to recruit new staff.
On the one hand there is a social issue: the future of vulnerable young people in society. Targeted measures have to be taken to give them the prospect of finding work and accommodation.
On the other hand, the maximum inflow of workers is an economic necessity.
However, traditional foyer concepts in the Netherlands were not able to provide the labour needed by employers.
As social entrepreneurs, a few housing associations with local and national partners took the initiative to tackle these issues by introducing the ‘WerkHotel’ concept. This aims to bring together supply and demand
in the employment and housing markets.
Young people live in the WerkHotel and follow a study-and-work route inside or outside the WerkHotel. If they complete this route successfully, they are guaranteed a job and a place to live. A social wage is the
key to the success of this concept.
The WerkHotel concept fits in seamlessly with the economic and social objectives of many municipalities.
In Leiden, for example, a number of parties are working enthusiastically to bring this concept to fruition. Leiden’s first WerkHotel is set to open its doors in June.
The WerkHotel residential concept is not tied to any local area. It serves as a model and can be implemented as a home-studywork concept in a large number of towns and cities.
In the province of South Holland, the local government and the Steering Group for Experiments in Housing (Stuurgroep Experimenten Volkshuisvesting) are enthusiastic about its wide range of applications and have made available a start-up subsidy so that the concept can be developed.
The WerkHotel is a home-study-work concept for isolated young people aged between around 17 and 27, who are not
adequately qualified, have no way into the employment market and have problems with their housing and life situations.
The WerkHotel offers a combined approach, with good quality accommodation and an obligation to follow a study-work route.

Young people receive a form of supervision and coaching in the WerkHotel, as each is allocated a mentor. Those who require a high degree of supervision are not considered for the project.
The WerkHotel concept is a training route. Young people must have a positive attitude towards the WerkHotel and it must provide them with a starting qualification, giving them a step-up to the employment and housing markets.
By targeting and supervising the intake, an individually tailored study-work route is marked out with each young person. Those who have completed a study-work route leave the WerkHotel, and employers and housing associations guarantee them a job and a place to stay in Leiden.
The WerkHotel offers accommodation for about 50-80 young people. How long they stay will depend on the study-work
route established for each. At present, it is assumed that they will stay for one to two years.
The WerkHotel has separate accommodation units of different quality, study space and training facilities. The concept is a learning process, not only for the young people and the organisations responsible for selecting them, but also for the individual study-work routes with employers’ organisations and for the management aspects of the WerkHotel.
During the visit to London there was a clear vision, both from UK and Netherlands representatives, of the need to establish a continuing relationship between the two countries to learn about experiences in the world of foyer concepts.

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