Geovation alumni ProxyAddress has launched its pilot in the London borough of Lewisham. Developed by British architect Chris Hildrey, the service uses the duplicated address details of existing homes to provide those facing homelessness with a consistent, secure, and free address which they can use to access the support they need.
Losing your home means losing your address, but an address is not just a location – it’s a de facto form of ID; without one, people experiencing homelessness can be prevented from accessing vital services like maintaining or opening a bank account, applying for a job or a driving licence, accessing benefits, receiving post, or even registering with a GP.
Chris says: “Nobody should be left alone or without recourse to help in times of need. The action already taken to help rough sleepers during the Covid-19 pandemic is a silver lining to a tragic situation but there remains a systemic barrier to helping those facing all types of homelessness: instability. Until stable housing and wrap-around support is available for all we need to find innovative ways to help those trapped in precarious situations. With the end of the furlough scheme approaching, now, more than ever, we have a duty to provide a lifeline to those most in need.”
ProxyAddresses are provided with explicit consent from property owners – including councils, housing associations, housing developers, and private donations, and some of the 225,000 long-term vacant homes in England[iii] – without impacting the original property’s credit score, value, or postal deliveries.
Just like the 800,000 letters sent in the UK each year to Santa’s Grotto in Reindeerland – which ultimately go to a sorting office in Belfast – for post, the ProxyAddress serves only as a routing instruction rather than a final destination. Mail addressed to a person at their ProxyAddress can be redirected to a collection point of their choosing, ensuring their details – and ability to access support – stay the same throughout the recovery journey, no matter how often they move.
Andrew was a lodger before being evicted by his landlord as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. He said, “When the lockdown started my landlord got nervous so told me to leave. I was a lodger so the eviction ban didn’t do anything. I’ve been homeless before but I thought I’d finally got back on my feet. I don’t have anyone else so not having an address is like being invisible – I’m not recognised by the places I need to go. The staff don’t know what to do with you. You’re just trying to get help and being told ‘not without an address’. This ProxyAddress idea is great – it’ll help so many people like me. Just having something to put my name to – even if it’s not a real place – that feels like a step in the right direction.”
New UK-wide research commissioned by ProxyAddress into the public’s views, perception, and experiences of homelessness expose the scope and impact of this problem across the country. 20 per cent of people know at least one person who has been made homeless in the past three years, and almost 50 per cent say that little or almost nothing is being done to prevent it. Furthermore, more than one in twenty think it is likely that they will be made homeless within six months, rising to more than 1 in 10 for under-35s.
Three quarters of those asked were supportive of the ProxyAddress initiative with a third willing to consider donating their own address to help those in need to access support – more than enough to provide a ProxyAddress to every person facing homelessness in the UK today.
Chris continues, “The findings of our study clearly show that ProxyAddress is a viable strategy to create positive early intervention and with this pilot we have taken our first steps to making that lifeline more easily accessible for everyone.”
This innovative system requires the highest levels of security and safety. As such, the pilot will seek to establish ProxyAddress’ compliance with anti-fraud regulations, opening bank accounts using a ProxyAddress in place of a proof of address as part of the Financial Conduct Authority’s regulatory sandbox. By meeting the requirements of such rigorous compliance processes, this pilot is the first step towards further systemic change.