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The next big thing in preventing and tackling homelessness

Crisis and Glasgow Homelessness Network have announced their intention to create a new dedicated body that is sector-led (by homelessness specialists from charities, government, research bodies and others) to improve the lives of people affected by homelessness by instigating a shift in resources to evidence-based solutions. As part of her Clore Social Leadership fellowship, Ligia Teixeira explains why.

For the past few months I’ve been working on a project to build the case for a new Centre for Homelessness Impact. Today we release the feasibility study that is the culmination of an intense six-month project. It’s an exciting moment for us, and I wanted to explain why.

Since Crisis was created 50 years ago, we have used a variety of strategies to end homelessness, from campaigning and lobbying to delivering services directly, and producing evidence on the causes and consequences, latest trends, and the scale of the issue.

Things have changed significantly since the mid-1960s, when homelessness first made it into the national consciousness. But the pace of change has not kept up with wider scientific and technological developments. In fields like international development, early years, or education we’ve improved our understanding of what works by applying scientific methods and a culture shift towards evidence-based practices. If the homelessness sector is to accelerate progress towards a future without homelessness we must create new roadways.

One way to achieve this is by focusing on what works by finding and funding solutions backed by evidence and data. That’s a challenge. The evidence is often weak or lacking, and in the rare examples where a programme has been tested to see if it worked the results are often ignored.

That’s why we need a new organisation that is sector led and owned to help make the use of evidence the right thing to do – it becomes the ‘new normal’. To help ensure that our values aren’t only articulated in our efforts but in our outcomes. It’s a simple idea, but with the potential to make a significant impact.

We joined forces with Glasgow Homelessness Network, a like minded organisation, to explore the desirability and feasibility of the concept. We had hundreds of rich conversations over a six-month period with people working towards ending homelessness and change-makers championing evidence-based practice in other fields. We gained valuable insights that shaped our proposals and which we share in the report published today. We have been encouraged by the widespread support for the concept, and feel there’s a unique opportunity to make this vision a reality.

Why now? Because over recent years we’ve learned a few things about what it takes to tackle today’s toughest systemic challenges. That ending homelessness faster and more effectively requires a few important culture shifts. We need to:

  • take a whole government approach and to break out of siloed service and policy practices. The homelessness sector alone cannot end homelessness. It requires putting the issue on the map in areas like education, health or criminal justice
  • build capacity, and take an interdisciplinary, deeply collaborative approach. This is a challenge. Professionals need support to apply evidence in real-life scenarios and existing funding mechanisms are by and large promoting competition rather than a focus on personalised solutions and effectiveness
  • directly fund interventions and programmes with the best evidence behind them, and take an experimental and human-centred approach to service development. To improve positive impact we need to be able to do the right things well.
  • engage people affected by homelessness more effectively in all our efforts, bring their perspectives and experiences to the heart of policy and practice. Solutions that are grounded only on the experiences of professionals and ignore the user voice and evidence are no solutions at all
  • engage people and their communities more effectively in our efforts to end homelessness. There is an education job to be done, in schools, universities, mainstream services, businesses and workplaces. There is a rich resource in this space that we’re currently not tapping into. We know from trends like the sharing economy that when individuals come together to drive towards a greater goal, we can gain traction on much bigger challenges , and find new ways forward.

This type of systems-change work requires agility, scale and networked organisations, both within and across different social policy areas. It requires commissioners, practitioners, researchers, campaigners as well as communities who work together and do not stand still.

With the new Centre, we’re hoping to start addressing some of these issues. We’re not naive, we know it won’t be a silver bullet. Other things will also need to happen - we need housing in the right places and at a price people can afford, and stable jobs that pay fair wages. We need to address the root causes of poverty and inequality, and protect our social safety net and strong (networked) local services.

But evidence-based approaches are an important part of the solution. It’s no surprise that currently there is public scepticism about the sector’s ability to end or even significantly reduce homelessness, or positively engage with people affected by homelessness who refuse ‘standard offers’ for help. Making policy and funding decisions based on the best possible evidence and holding mainstream services accountable will help restore confidence.

This is therefore a critical moment to consider what is needed to build on our international reputation for preventing and tackling homelessness. We think Scotland is the ideal place to begin. If the Centre for Homelessness Impact works here - Scotland has taken larger strides to end homelessness than most other countries, its rights-based and assets-based approach to homelessness is widely celebrated as progressive, inclusive and ground-breaking - it will provide a model for others to follow.

This study is just the beginning of a long journey but it does show that there is both a need and a demand for a new organisation. Funding is now being sought for the project, with a view to opening the new Centre later this year.

We’ve been working on these issues for 50 years, but this could be a turning-point. It’s time to apply our collective efforts to meet the challenges of a complex homelessness system that developed organically over the years. The system must be redrawn so that we are able to improve outcomes and make even better use of today’s resources and technological advances to achieve step change in how we prevent and tackle homelessness.

Crisis and GHN hope that the new Centre, by bringing everyone to the party who feels the same way, will make us faster, more effective, and able to ground our solutions in the needs and voices of people affected by the problem.

Please click here to download Ligia’s report which she prepared as Head of Research and Evaluation at Crisis and at a 2016 Clore Social Fellow, supported Oak Foundation.

Share your comments about this blog and the report below, or contact Ligia on Twitter. This article was originally published on Crisis.

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