July 29, 2020

Impact Festival: a summary of week two

Hannah Green

How do we create a housing system that leaves no one behind? We brought 27 speakers together across six events to put an intersectional lens on not just improving availability and access to housing, but making sure the housing we have is of sufficient quality and appropriate to people's needs.

On Monday we heard from inspirational leaders from both the UK and US to discuss ‘Housing, poverty and racism in the movement to end homelessness’. Amanda Andere, CEO of Funders Together to End Homelessness chaired the session, and was joined by Marc Dones, Executive Director of the National Innovation Service, Tony McKenzie, Member Involvement Coordinator at Crisis UK and Steve Douglas, CEO of St Mungos.

They discussed the importance of having frank conversations about race, empowering people from different backgrounds to meaningfully lead organisations and prevention frameworks being built on racial justice. They also stressed the importance of having uncomfortable conversations, to root out bias that is still plaguing the system. 

'The time is for action now, let's start including people and changing things. Now is the time to be getting everyone round the table and making change happen' - Tony McKenzie , Member Coordinator at Crisis UK

Tuesday saw Jo Bibby, Director of Health at The Health Foundation, Sir Michael Marmot, Professor of Epidemiology at University College London, Alice Wiseman, Director of Public Health at Gateshead Council, and Poppy Noor, Journalist at the Guardian US discuss ‘How COVID-19 exposes the underlying housing and health inequalities in society’. There was a focus on making sure all communities have a voice, but not tokenistically. The panelists also made it clear that we cannot deal with health inequalities without dealing with housing inequity. 

"The myth was that this was the great leveller - of course that proved anything but the truth, as it went on, we can see that COVID-19 like any health inequality follows the social gradient" - Sir Michael Marmot, Professor of Epidemiology at UCL

Hearing Poppy’s personal experiences of navigating the homelessness system as a teenager and having to make the choice between going to Cambridge University and losing her place on the housing register, or staying in London and missing out on the opportunity to go to the prestigious institution, highlighted some of the key opportunities we have to improve people's life chances, and how some of the structural inequalities directly affect them. 

Wednesday's event ‘‘Homelessness post COVID-19: how to harness the power of data and evidence to improve local and national responses’ brought together experts from both sides of the Atlantic. Ligia Teixeira, CEO of the Centre for Homelessness Impact, Professor Dennis Culhane, the Dana and Andrew Stone Professor of Social Policy at the School of Social Policy and Practice at The University of Pennsylvania and the Director of Research for the National Center on Homelessness among Veterans at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Deborah Padgett, Deborah Padgett is a Professor of Social Work and Global Public Health at New York University. Suzanne Fitzpatrick,  Professor of Housing and Social Policy in the Institute for Social Policy, Housing, Environment and Real Estate at Heriot-Watt University and Paul Davidson, is the CIO of Sedgemoor District Council and Director at iStandUK.

Dennis argued the need for more real-time data exchange between different systems and organisations for effective collaboration, which currently many key organisations are simply not set up for. The panel examined the link between homelessness and poverty, and raised the very important point that whilst COVID-19 has reinforced that we are not ‘all in this together’. They also paid credit to the remarkable speed that councils and charities rose to the extraordinary new challenge the pandemic posed. 

On Thursday, experts from the UK, Ireland and the US discussed ‘Affordable housing and homelessness in the aftermath of COVID-19’. Chaired by Gavin Smart, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Housing, the panelists spoke passionately about the need to move away from shelter-based accommodation for people experiencing homelessness. 

Brenda Rosen, President of Breaking Ground took us through their response to the pandemic, and their current efforts to turn large hotels into permanent supportive housing, which has proven to be cheaper than building brand new buildings. Ken Gibb, the Director of the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence emphasised the need to accelerate impact, and come up with unorthodox ways of doing things in order to create change quickly, and Meera Chindooroy of the National Residential Landlords Association spoke frankly about the problems landlords face when dealing with the benefits system. 

'COVID clarified everything that we knew was wrong with the housing system' - Eoin O’Sullivan of Trinity College, Dublin

On Friday morning we heard incredibly important and powerful insights into ‘Responding to women’s homelessness during COVID-19’. Chaired by Alison Inman, board member at Colne, Saffron and TPAS; former president of the Chartered Institute of Housing; and co-founder of Social Housing Under Threat (SHOUT), and joined by Kelly Henderson, co-founder of The Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance's (DAHA), Amanda Hailes, founding member of Untold Story Hull, Lucy Baldwin, of De Montfort University and Elisa Vasquez-Walters, Resettlement Officer at Essex Community Rehabilitation Company. We heard honest accounts of the failings of the criminal justice system when dealing with female offenders, the intersectionality of domestic abuse, homelessness and offending behaviours and the need for more joined up thinking and trauma informed approaches from frontline services. 

All of the panelists argued for a gendered approach to solving homelessness, as women’s homelessness issues can be very different to men’s, and acknowledging the difference is beneficial to all of those receiving support. Amanda spoke powerfully on her own experiences of homelessness and trying to access the full suite of services required to support her to stay out of homelessness. "I often got accused of not engaging, that I was hard to reach, that I was difficult, that I didn't show emotion - if you understood my trauma you would understand why" - Amanda Hailes

Our final event of the week, the Housing Cost Calculator Masterclass offered an insight into the benefits of using our Housing Costs Calculator in planning a move on strategy for those who have been housed during the pandemic, in emergency accommodation during the pandemic. The session was led by Guillermo Rodríguez-Guzmán and Keir McCluskey,  of the Centre for Homelessness Impact, and Bridget Ackeifi and Tamiru Mammo, Consultants at Bloomberg Associates, who were able to share their experience of using the calculator to support city mayors. The workshop gave an opportunity to connect people who had experience using the tool to those who could benefit from it.‍

Thank you to everyone who joined us for week two, we’ll be sharing all the recordings on our website. You can sign up for week three now, and join the conversation on how we can make ending homelessness a shared priority.

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