Cambridge It Takes A City (ITAC) – Action Group Update

Guest blog written by Rachel Briant, It Takes A City Coordinator

In November 2018, It Takes A City (ITAC) the Cambridge Homelessness Summit was held where some 150 people from across the community gathered – business leaders, heads of colleges and schools, professional workers, local authorities, support agencies, faith leaders, and those who were sleeping or had slept rough, to talk about homelessness and rough sleeping.

Following the Summit, seven Action Groups were formed and some incredible projects have been taking shape within the last year. On September 23, 2019, Mills and Reeve Cambridge, a local Law Firm kindly opened up their office for us to invite representatives from all Action Groups to hear and share the progress so far. It was a hive of discussion demonstrating beautifully the values of co-production and collaboration at the heart of the partnership.

Below is an outline of the work undertaken so far and what the Action Groups hope to achieve in the coming months.

Digital Connects

Aim – To develop a digital-based platform to promote homeless services with two functions – ‘Find Help’ and ‘Give Help’.

The digital connects group have identified the Street Support Network to be the ideal platform to use for Cambridgeshire. The group have secured funding to the value of £8000 and officially launched Street Support Cambridge on October 10 – World Homeless Day – at the Gonville Hotel.

Cambridge Homeless Outreach Programme (CHOP), a student society, have been uploading data from 25 local support organisations to the site. We are very thankful for their hard work and with the invaluable input of volunteers, more organisations will be added.

What next?

  • Looking to fully fund the site for the next two years;
  • Agree on the content development and maintenance function;
  • Keeping the data up to date with the help of volunteers;
  • Looking for support to help promote the site to all who could benefit;
  • Receive feedback on the site;
  • Open the offer to the rest of the County to host their content.

Information Connects

Aim – To utilise the city’s data to inform the delivery and analysis of homelessness and related services and automate processes wherever possible to enable smarter inter-agency working

Multi-agency work is key to the delivery of homelessness/housing services, and it’s common for a client to be working with several agencies simultaneously. In-Form Salesforce platform is a secure platform to share client information, make referrals and monitor rough sleeping (and many other functions).  The system is administered by the City Council and has 155 users from 20 different services. This generates a wealth of data that is increasingly being recognised as a valuable resource.

Any work undertaken with the client is logged on one central record and visible to partner agencies. This reduces the need for repeated assessment of a client’s story. The Information Connects group has provided a much-needed space to take a strategic overview of In-Form, the data it generates and how it can be used.

Work so far

  • Using In-Form data to map the flow of people through the homelessness and housing system and the resulting demand. This is the first time In-Form data has been looked at holistically;
  • Provision of data to the WHAG (Women and Homelessness Action Group) to support their funding bid;
  • Working with the Youth Connects group towards full adoption of In-Form by youth housing services.

What next?

  • Publish the systems model and report;
  • Provide data to inform the work of other ITAC action groups;
  • Developing In-Form for Youth Services;
  • Ongoing development and administration of the citywide platform;
  • Exploring the potential for a dedicated System Admin

Housing Connects

Aim – To set up 35 new homes every year, with appropriate ‘wrap-around’ support, paid for by the local business community.

Housing connects have been exploring current pathways from street to home and have looked at possible ways of reducing discrimination in housing, both within the public and private sector. The hope of the action group is to increase the flow of people into sustained accommodation from the street and hostel system.

The group have decided to focus on a private-sector funded supported social housing scheme. A “Somewhere to Call Home” paper has been developed setting out the proposed business model outside of the existing social housing allocation system and not dependent on local authority funding. Using a combination of market purchase, intervention in existing developments and modular homes on new land.

There have been offers of finance from several sources and an offer of development land for a small mixed community development using modular homes. In order to take proposals forward, the group is looking to set up a Community Land Trust / Community Benefit Society as an incorporated entity.

What next?

  • Set up and establish the new organisation;
  • Explore further private sector funded supported social housing schemes;
  • Follow-up the immediate offers of finance and land

Women and Homelessness Action Group (WHAG)

Aim – To ensure that the needs of homeless women are embedded in current and future services. Ensure that safe and adequate women-only housing and a haven are provided for vulnerable homeless women including therapeutic care and a holistic pathway of support.

Since November 2018 the WHAG have produced a Women and Homelessness Action Plan (WHAP) to frame their work.

An early focus for the group was to advocate against the threatened closure of Whitworth House Cambridge, the specialist housing provision for young women. Councillors reversed the interim decision to close Whitworth House, pending a high-level review of services. WHAG continues to make the case for women-only services during this review.

The WHAG has researched existing provision for homeless women and plans to publish

documents providing accessible information for homeless women and those taking up new tenancies. The group have also identified the need for and design of basic support packs that can be given to women moving into temporary accommodation

With the support of CHS (Cambridge Housing Society), the WHAG recently applied to Homeless Link for a grant to support workers for homeless women and to help progress the WHAP. Unfortunately, this grant source was overwhelmed with applications and we were not successful. We continue in our search for such funding.

What next?

  • Sourcing and securing funding for a Development Worker to help progress the WHAP and a Support Worker for homeless women;
  • Explore options for an off-street respite centre or haven;
  • More women-only provision – longer-term therapeutic housing/home.

Youth Homelessness Group

Aim – To ensure that young homeless people and their families can access information on what to do and that safe and adequate housing are provided for those young people who need it.

Alongside young people experiencing homelessness, the group have explored and agreed on what ‘home’ means for a young homeless person as well as consider what an ideal young person’s supported housing service looks like.

The group have identified that the data on numbers of young people seeking supported accommodation is partial as not all of the data is recorded on the City Council’s database In-Form when young people present to services.

Three members of the group are developing a Schools’ Project to educate young people and their families on homelessness and its perils and will provide information for those who may find themselves threatened with homelessness. 

Two members of the group are also identifying apprenticeships and employment opportunities that are linked with accommodation and have been meeting with property companies, developers, construction companies and Cambridge University regarding this development. 

What next?

  • Work closely with Cambridge City Council to extend the use of Inform by agencies;
  • Improve the data gathered to create a more accurate picture of the current need to shape future services.

Working Connects

Aim – To aid homeless people back into work and to sustain their employment. 

The working connects group have developed the ‘Homelessness Opportunities Programme (Hop On)’ and through conducting surveys have identified a database of work-ready employees. The work is building upon the already established and effective Back to Work scheme developed in partnership with Wintercomfort and Cambscuisine. There has been an expression of interest from a number of employers and as a result, the group has compiled a list of some local businesses ready to join the programme. 

The group has developed an ‘Employer ready document’ highlighting the conditions needed for any organisation participating in the programme, including how to provide the correct support and the right cultural environment. 

The group has identified the need for a ‘Hop On Coordinator’ to improve outreach into homeless and vulnerably housed individuals and connect them with employers, complementing and partnering with existing and related programmes in Wintercomfort and the CHS Group. 

On September 23, the Cambscuisine launched a Foundation to raise funds for coordination of this programme and other homelessness programmes. 

What next?

  • Employ the ‘Hop-On Coordinator’ for April 2020;
  • Compile a definitive list of employers and match work with employers; 
  • Merge with County Council database In-Form to identify work-ready employees 
  • Build a good practice guide for employers.

Mentoring

Aim – To set up a Street Mentoring Scheme for homeless people where volunteers build meaningful relationships and journey with individuals to achieve and overcome problems.

The Mentoring Project has been defined and a project development resource identified in CHS Group to establish a programme to recruit, train and offer vetted volunteer support to street homeless and newly housed individuals. 

What next?

  • Secure funding for the mentoring project to launch in spring 2020.

Co-production

In partnership with Cambridge County Council, a co-production group is evolving to connect people who have been homeless to each Action Group and the wider community. The aim of the group is:

  • To promote co-production using experts by experience at all times;
  • To advise and support the commissioning of existing and new services;
  • To influence in areas where members feel change is needed.

Business Group

Aim –  To provide an opportunity for the business community to share and explore how they can collaboratively help to reduce homelessness in the City.

We will launch our first Business Group in November 2019, which will kindly be hosted by the Tamburlaine Hotel Cambridge.