Anti-social family's antics led to pioneering project

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The Independent Online

The Dundee Families Project, on which new preventive measures to tackle nuisance neighbours would be based, was prompted by a mother who bristled with aggression and preferred fists to reasoning. Jill Shimi, Dundee City Council's housing convener, said the father of the "family from hell" drunk uncontrollably and made life an absolute misery for neighbours.

The couple's three children shunned school and "rampaged" through the neighbourhood, fighting with other youngsters and vandalising property. The family, which also included an 11-month-old baby, was evicted from its house and placed in a hostel for the homeless. The council then decided the family should be given an "intensive package of support" that addressed the anti-social behaviour.

The experiment worked. The family was reintegrated into the community, offered a council house and the children started attending school. "As far as I know they and their neighbours have lived happily ever after," Mrs Shimi said. "We recognised that this model of intervention could be applied to other families."

The project, based in the St Mary's area of the city, provides flats and support for families who have been refused housing because of anti-social behaviour. All parents have to sign a contract promising good behaviour. Young mothers are given lessons in childcare and cooking, while others get help with alcohol and drug problems.

The scheme was launched five years ago in the face of enormous controversy. Incensed locals feared increased crime and falling house prices. The flats, which have live-in social workers, earned the name Colditz because of the 5ft fence and security cameras.

Mrs Shimi described the project as a "gamble that paid off". It had, she said, proven to be a cost-effective alternative that enabled the council to fulfil its legal obligations to house the homeless and support children. It also avoided simply shifting the problem to another area.