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Learning from the frontline

By Rachel Tait 28 June 2019 5 minute read

I recently spent a day with 13 people who work for homelessness charities in the Midlands, London and the South West. The event, hosted by the National Lottery Community Fund, had two aims: to give us space and time to talk to each other about the issues that matter to us most in relation to homelessness, and to share our perspective with the Fund to inform their Partnerships funding. I’d never been consulted by a funder in advance of funding being given out—the usual feedback mechanism is a brief survey at the end of a grant, when it’s too late to change anything.

To be honest I felt a little insecure about attending the event because NPC doesn’t deliver homelessness services. The rest of the attendees had a much better understanding of the day-to-day reality for people experiencing homelessness, and for the frontline staff who do their best to offer support. So I went to learn from them and to explore practical ideas for how NPC can work with charities and funders to build on our recent homelessness research.

We had honest discussions about what issues funders could direct money to, and how those priorities related to the government’s homelessness strategy. We asked far more questions than we answered, but we also found key themes that resonated with everyone—from frontline staff to service managers to fundraisers to consultants.

Many people slip through the net and turning people away is a daily reality for charities

The latest Homelessness Monitor shows that the number of Central and Eastern European migrants sleeping rough continues to increase. Many roundtable attendees spoke about the difficulties of accessing support for people with no recourse to public funds and the lack of options available to them. This is a hugely frustrating reality for frontline staff who must operate within the government’s criteria for who does and doesn’t deserve help. Charities highlighted the need to acknowledge the scale of this issue and the need for joined-up policy on immigration, benefits, housing, employment and communities.

Our obsession with ‘homelessness’ products and services isolates people

Labels matter. As soon as somebody is at risk of or experiencing homelessness, they are encouraged to use ‘homelessness services’ with other people in a similar position. Any connection to the rest of their community can quickly get lost, and their skills and interests are often ignored. Several people in the room praised Mayday Trust for their ambition to change the system and their coaching approach that focuses on people’s assets when they’re going through tough times. There are already great examples of places where different services—housing, employability and education, health, faith groups, community organisations—work together to support an individual. Interestingly, these examples exist mostly in smaller towns, and staff from big cities like Birmingham and London struggled to see how that approach could work at scale.

Even if organisations know what good practice looks like, it can be difficult to implement it consistently

Changing the culture and the ways of working in an organisation takes long-term commitment of time and resource. Implementing promising approaches like psychologically informed environments and trauma informed care requires training. There’s plenty of reading material online and training from organisations like Homeless Link, but when you’ve got limited time and money—not to mention pressure to deliver outputs and outcomes from a funder—the most practical option is probably just to deliver it the same way again. This presents funders with a great opportunity to factor in staff training and development costs so that organisations can keep up with the inevitable evolution of good practice.

If you’d like to find out more about NPC’s work on homelessness and get involved in future plans, please contact me on: 


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