'No single organisation has the answer to reducing homelessness .'
No single organisation has the answer to reducing homelessness – but Homelessness Awareness Week was a reminder of what we can achieve when we work together, says Chris Stocks, homeless strategy and partnership lead at Exeter City Council and Teignbridge District Council.
Exeter City Council and Teignbridge District Council have been working closely together and sharing services and service leads for the last three years. We jointly fund a young persons’ homelessness prevention service, assertive homeless outreach service and more recently a joint homeless strategy. We were also successful with a recent bid to the Department for Communities and Local Government to become a Homelessness Prevention Trailblazer. One of the strategy’s main aims was to improve our communication with the public and elected members. We’re often seen as being notoriously bad at informing people about what we’re doing to tackle this hugely important issue – so Homelessness Awareness Week was born to spread the word about our partnership approach.
We’re currently facing the greatest challenge in terms of household approaches and rough sleeping in the 17 years that I have been involved in housing. Like most cities Exeter has seen an increase in the number of people rough sleeping, but is this really a surprise with the reduction in funding and lack of available options? Cuts in funding for drug and alcohol addiction support and mental health services have also had an impact on preventative services as they move away from an early intervention model towards crisis management and almost retreat behind their own doors. This isn’t meant to be a criticism of those services – it’s the reality of having to do more for less. It has also resulted in an increase in the level of complexity that people are presenting with. Homelessness Awareness Week was an opportunity to get across what we are trying to do to tackle the problem. It was a week-long campaign with a different theme each day:
Monday October 9 - setting the scene, giving statistics and information, details of how the public sector tackles the problem and the challenges and opportunities it faces.
Tuesday October 10 – CoLab. The work of this crucial partnership project in the heart of Exeter, offering a comprehensive wellbeing and support service to single homeless people.
Wednesday October 11 - voluntary sector. The work of St Petrock’s, Citizens Advice Exeter, Community Housing Aid, Julian House, Young Devon, HiTS and THAT and many more.
Thursday October 13 - accommodation providers and outreach (Gabriel House, Bethany House, Esther House, YMCA and many others).
Friday October 13 - success stories. Real people telling their stories, together with those who have provided a positive intervention.
The week proved to be extremely positive, the videos were watched and shared and we managed to get across the partnership approach, the message about early prevention and the challenges we face. I’d encourage other areas to join in with a similar campaign and let the public know what you’re doing collectively to tackle homelessness. We all face the same challenges – at times it does seem futile and that our backs are against the wall but we also need to take hope and remember why we are working in homelessness and that there are reasons to be cheerful. The week gave me hope – it reminded me why I work in homelessness and above all what we can achieve when we work together.