Alison Griffin: Making evidence-led change in Southend
The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified an already pressing humanitarian crisis; homelessness - meaning it is more important than ever that local authority leaders have access to the tools that are needed to tackle their biggest homelessness challenges.
The Centre for Homelessness Impact's What Works Community helps to equip leaders with these tools, by providing unparalleled expertise, capacity building and peer connections that can help local authorities make better use of evidence and data, to move towards an end to homelessness.
I'm proud to have joined the Centre for Homelessness Impact’s #EndItWithEvidence campaign, A call to action to improve the lives of people who are experiencing homelessness or at risk through evidence-led change. Like CHI, I believe that 2021 could mark a definitive turning point in homelessness, but only if we can be confident that we are working towards ending, rather than managing, homelessness.
The campaign aims to build, at this defining moment, a growing chorus of ‘what works’ champions to ensure that, as part of aiming to end homelessness for good, we use this opportunity to understand how to end it effectively. How to end it sustainably. And most importantly, how to improve the lives of people affected by homelessness.
I first met the Centre for Homelessness Impact at their launch event in 2018 and was immediately excited by their mission. Their approach was different; harnessing the power of data and evidence to prevent and end homelessness for good rather than just trying to manage the problem. When we were offered the chance to join their What Works Community pilot programme, as one of three founding local authorities, we knew it was an opportunity we would want to embrace. The program aims to support local areas to make better use of evidence and data to achieve breakthrough results.
The timing could not have been better. Southend-On-Sea Borough Council had recently published our new Southend 2050 ambition. It was developed following extensive conversations with those that live, work, visit, do business and study in Southend-on-Sea. One of the five key ambitions outlined in our plan is that Southenders have what they need to stay “Safe and Well”, this includes a dedication to ensuring that everyone has a home that meets their needs and delivering services that are effective at protecting and improving the quality of life for the most vulnerable in our community. It was fantastic to be able to add the pilot into our wider programme of activities to tackle homelessness in Southend.
There are multiple challenges that need to be addressed in order for Southend to achieve our goals, including the supply and demand for locally affordable housing. Currently, there is a small social and large Private Rented Sector (PRS) in our borough. House prices have been rising in the borough since 2009 and exceed pre-crash levels. In Southend a significant number of households do not have the resources to pay for market housing; affordability of both PRS properties and mortgages is challenging for many low income households.
Reflecting on CHI’s What Works Community as a leader, though it’s early days it is clear that trying new ways of working and becoming even more evidence driven is helping us to prioritise our resources and efforts even more effectively. The idea of getting the teams used to working in new, innovative ways that they can then apply to other challenges is just what we needed.
This will help ensure the successful execution of our Southend 2050 vision, and not just within our housing and homelessness teams. We were delighted to join the first pilot cohort, not just so that we could address homelessness in Southend and see more sustainable reductions in homelessness locally, but also so that we could begin to apply this learning across other parts of the council.
When we signed up to the programme we had a kick off meeting where leaders across the council were joined by the Centre for Homelessness Impact team and the Southend on Sea Council pilot team. Our pilot team explained that in Southend, the leading cause of homelessness is loss of an assured shorthold tenancy, yet systems don’t exist to measure the impact of different organisations working in partnership to prevent homelessness from the PRS. In some cases, issues in the PRS reached crisis point before supportive interventions were made available to tenants and landlords.
CHI set our team a challenge: to increase the number and duration of successful tenancies in the PRS for people who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness in our local area. CHI provided support and training in data practices, design thinking and behavioural science to the pilot teams in order for each to develop their own, tailored response to the challenge. As a leader, watching our pilot team form and grow in their knowledge showed me how valuable this way of working could be for all of our operations, and inspired us to consider how we could apply it at a wider council level.
Being able to make connections with leadership at other local authorities has been invaluable. It has allowed us to talk through common problems and discuss potential solutions.
By taking part in the What Works Community we were able to bring together colleagues from across our council, but also partners from the community. That collaboration has enabled those relationships to develop in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without the What Works Community. I think that the pilot team coming together was really helpful and getting under the skin of what really causes some of the evictions we see in our local area from the private rented sector was invaluable.
As the pilot draws to a close, I’m excited to see a new iteration of the What Works Community launch with a larger cohort. My top tip to leaders would be – we keep doing the same things but expecting a different result. Now, more than ever our existing and traditional ways of doing things isn’t going to cut it. That’s hard, because it’s how our teams have been trained and it’s how our citizens expect us to behave as well. We have to challenge a number of assumptions by working in a new way, but it’s so worth the risk. We’re not going to achieve what we need to achieve in local government or indeed with our communities unless we try different things. This is a way to really bring some expertise into learning about how to do things differently, in a way that local government normally just isn’t able to do.
We’re now really looking forward to sharing more about what solution the Southend team has been working on, and planning how to take their learning forward across the wider council. I’m very excited for the new local authorities who now also have this amazing opportunity to transform the way their organisations work. I can’t wait to meet the other leaders and watch them go on the same transformational journey that our pilot team went on, which truly has the power to change how their organisations respond to homelessness and other complex issues.
Through participating in the What Works Community, I learnt about the importance of data and evidence in ending homelessness; that we can only end it for good by focusing on what works and finding and funding solutions that are backed by evidence and data. This led me to becoming an ambassador for CHI’s #EndItWithEvidence campaign.
This is why I am now embracing the What Works approach, and urge other local authorities and leaders to do the same.
I believe that all those working to end homelessness, should also join the movement to end it with evidence by:
1)Building the evidence of the policies, practices and programmes that achieve the most effective results to improve the lives of people who are homeless or at risk.
2)Building the capacity needed to act promptly on the best knowledge available to improve decisions and help limited resources go further.
3)Using evidence-led communications to change the conversation around homelessness, challenging stereotypes, and making sure that homelessness is not a defining factor in anyone’s life.
Sign the pledge today and join the evidence led movement to end homelessness.