Collaboration is the key to tackling homelessness

By Seb Barker | 27 November 2019

At the London Homelessness Awards in October, I had the pleasure of listening to some inspiring stories of charities who are working to alleviate homelessness in their local communities.

These included the Magpie Project – one of our charity referrers – which improves the lives of homeless mums and their children in Newham, to The Passage Anti-Slavery Project, which aims to help homeless victims of modern-day slavery. Each shortlisted organisation is tackling a part of the homelessness experience.

However, it wasn’t just charities and social enterprises providing innovative solutions. The third prize was awarded to the North London Early Homelessness Prevention Service – a homelessness intervention project operating across six North London authorities.

By taking referrals from key public services to identify households at early risk of homelessness, the Prevention Service has been able to resolve problems before they escalate and prevent or relieve a number of families from homelessness.

At its core, though, this project can only thrive because of one thing – collaboration.

This alone enables social enterprises like Beam to do what we do best. We are optimists, because while we recognise we cannot solve homelessness on our own, we passionately believe it can be solved through joint working, where every organisation is playing to its strengths – whether that is frontline work, housing, regulation or technology.

At Beam, our strength lies in swiftly removing every barrier faced by homeless people from entering the workforce. We do this through an innovative funding and personalised support model.

Each homeless individual has their own page on our website, along with their personal story, career ambitions and how much they need to raise – taking into consideration other associated costs such as childcare, transport and equipment. Members of the public then donate as much or as little as they like, with each campaign taking on average one month to fully fund.

Once they have raised the necessary funds, we support them throughout their training, before helping them into stable work with a trusted employer. So far, we have helped people into more than 42 career paths, ranging from bricklaying to accounting.

In the two years since we have been operating, the model has proven highly effective, especially at supporting people in temporary accommodation to upskill and enter well-paid work as a means to move away from homelessness. But we won’t succeed alone. The reality is that we are only able to create this sort of measurable impact with the support of a whole ecosystem of stakeholders who are equally committed to finding long-term systemic solutions to homelessness.

We rely on more than 30 charities and forward-thinking local authorities to refer homeless people to Beam, who they believe are motivated to get back into work, but require some extra support to get there.

By building strong relationships with the housing officers and tenancy sustainment teams within local councils, we can work in partnership to help scale our joint impact.

Already, through our pilot programmes with Hammersmith, Fulham and Southwark LBCs which began in April and August this year respectively, we have crowdfunded employment training for more than 30 homeless men and women from these boroughs. With over 20 of those individuals now in training, and a further four of those in paid work, we are already starting to see the fruits from these relationships.

Employment outcomes are just the beginning. We are increasingly being asked by local authorities if we can also include housing outcomes as an additional incentive, with Southwark being the first local authority to trial this.

By supporting a new wave of skilled people into housing that is more suitable and stable, we are also freeing space and resources for those who are currently rough sleeping.

And, with local authorities spending nearly £1bn a year on temporary accommodation, this model has the potential to save the taxpayer thousands of pounds in the process.

Ultimately, this is about investing in the employability and life prospects of the most disadvantaged residents in our boroughs and empowering them to live sustainably. As a result, we are helping local authorities to increase social mobility and reduce inequality in their neighbourhoods.

Homelessness is a multi-faceted problem that requires a multi-stakeholder approach. Beam’s model is designed to join the dots between Government, charities, training providers, employers and the public to provide comprehensive solutions to homelessness, so that everyone plays to their strengths.

If local authorities want to play their part, we believe that together we can get one step closer to solving homelessness.

Seb Barker is Beam co-founder and chief operating officer at Beam.org

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