Homelessness - we need to collectivise

Posted on July 31, 2013

The Homeless Summit, held on July 16 at Henley Business School, was an important opportunity for around 200 organisations and individuals working with homeless people to take a critical view of what is needed and what is working to support homeless people in the UK.  Several speakers at the conference highlighted both the growing percentage of homeless adults with multiple needs, and the need for more innovative and financially sustainable approaches to tackle the problem of homelessness which made the launch of my research all the more pertinent. 

Another finding from my research became something of a running theme through the conference; the need to collaborate more effectively.  Too many adults with multiple needs are still falling between agencies, or facing problems moving from the support of one organisation to another.

I led a workshop to explore the implications of my research for the entrepreneurs and managers actually running the social enterprises that employ homeless people.  I shared the platform with Maureen Margrie of Emmaus UK, who provided a fantastic case study of how a social enterprise model really can support adults with multiple needs.

For me the 10 key lessons for practitioners in all this are:

1. Be clear about which rung your organisation provides on the ladder from social exclusion to social inclusion.  No organisation can help everyone at every stage of that journey.  Other organisations have their expertise and part to play.

2. Mind the gaps between organisations, this is where most ‘beneficiaries’ fall down.  The transition points into and out of your organisation are particularly vulnerable.  Who is providing that extra support at those key transitions?

3. Get the right balance between core staff, ‘stable beneficiaries’ and more ‘chaotic beneficiaries’.  The social enterprise has to be able to deliver its commercial service, if the balance is skewed too far one way it’s not maximising its social impact, too far the other way and it risks going bust.

4. Develop multiple income streams.  Social enterprises with only one income stream rely on an average of 40% grant funding, compared to only 5% for those with 5 income streams or more.

5. Housing associations can provide vital stability.  A 3 year contract to deliver a commercial service to a housing association can be a more reliable source of income than most grants.

6. Commercial franchises may offer a commercially sustainable business model that could add financial and social value to your offer.  There may also be sustainable social enterprises who could be persuaded to franchise.

7. Build your commercial stability before being too ambitious with your social impact.  In most cases long-term social value will be created from a sustainable commercial base.

8. Support your leader.  The personal pressure felt by leaders of social enterprises in this space is enormous and they need the right support, for example from a strong board, a mentor, peer support and appropriate training.  And time to be strategic, not operational.

9. Your social value can be extremely effective at getting your foot in the door, particularly with public sector bodies in the wake of the Social Value Act.  But social value on its own will not keep those contracts.  You need to deliver quality and reliability.

10. Cooperate, collaborate, collectivise.  Together social enterprises working with homeless people are saving the government £66 million a year.  On your own you may have a relatively small voice, but together you pack a significant punch. 

You can access Mark’s research in full here.

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Mark Richardson

Mark Richardson

Empowering people with multiple needs

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