System Change

Steve, Trinity CEO, asks what needs to change in the homeless sector in order for us to beat homelessness in our communities …

Was I in the wrong room? I was at a national conference discussing the state of the homelessness sector in the UK with professionals in the field; I understood the jargon, most of the acronyms and the stories people were telling. It really does sound like I belonged in that room – so why was I dumbstruck? This state continued into the tea break where people were critiquing the discussion as ‘intelligent’. It was like I was there in body … but nothing else. The debate was designed to seek clarity on ‘the sectors’ response to the new government and the policies that will inevitably affect our work and the people we work with.  What’s the problem Steve? You usually have so much to say on exactly this subject…. Have you ever found yourself stifled by your surroundings? To paraphrase a wiser person than me “you become who you hang out with…”. Well meaning, hardworking people delivering life-saving services to some of the most vulnerable people in our society have had the very creativity and passion that is essential for their work beaten out of them. Endless cuts to their funding. Great services developed over years slashed and contracted for half the price. Tendering that looks like it’s designed to create better services, but actually creates competition in the very sector that requires collaboration. The result – Oh, how often I hear this – organisations having to compete for and protect ever decreasing pots of money. The Third Sector acts more like the Third World, a poverty mentality that dances to the tune of First World funders. Have you ever found yourself diametrically opposed to an argument or someone’s position? Despite everyone in the room accepting that rental properties are the only way to end homelessness and despite the challenge to actually achieve what we are here to do being universally accepted, the biggest cheer and round of applause in the room was when it was suggested that ‘private landlords be regulated as they are making millions from Housing Benefit.’ My first question is, Regulated in what way? But the bigger issue is: casting private landlords – who invest their money in housing people as a way of making a living – as the Devil is a mistake and will further alienate the very people we need even more. Are there rouge landlords? Yes. So let’s put them out of business by being better than they are. Do we all have enough capital to buy all the houses we need? No. So let’s rent them so that we can provide a way off the streets today rather than wait until we’ve saved enough to buy all the houses. Is it even true that private landlords make millions form Housing Benefit? No. The vast, vast majority of landlords won’t accept Housing Benefit, that’s why we have such a massive homelessness problem. We can rent a house for a few hundred quid and prevent five people from becoming homeless every week. That’s 260 people prevented from slipping into homelessness in a year. To purchase the same amount of houses in the same amount of time we would require £5.2 million up front, which – interestingly – is that same amount of money we would have saved the Health Service, Social Services and the Criminal Justice System put together. Landlords are not the enemy, we shouldn’t demonise them – they should be given tax breaks and incentives if they rent to charities working to prevent homelessness! Being reliant on others to fund the work we choose to do is called dependence. Dependence is something our work is supposed to stop, drug dependence, alcohol dependence, dependence on benefits. If we behave in the same way, if we are dependent on funders, on Local Authorities, on donations, how do we model an IN-dependent way of living? Familiarity breeds contempt and this sector’s relationship with its historic funding partners is certainly familiar. This homeless sector needs complete system change, but from what I can see its not ready and it won’t be until it breaks its poverty mentality, stops expecting others to pay for its ideas and gets a new vision for it’s future. We are the people of passion, we are the people of belief for a better future, we are the people that have ideas and can move quickly to develop them. We need to surround ourselves with entrepreneurs, coaches, business leaders. We need to sacrifice the sacred cow of grants on the altar of business and of not-for-profit on the altar of social profit. With profit we can develop and finance what we want, we are masters of our own destiny. Never doubt that a group of thoughtful committed people can change the world – Do you know why? – It’s the only thing that ever has. Author Card Steve