Campbell Tickell evaluates homelessness support work in Brent

07 May 2024 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read
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Since 2019, the Berkeley Foundation has funded Crisis Skylight Brent to develop ‘place-based work’ helping to tackle homelessness in the area. As part of this funding, Campbell Tickell was commissioned to evaluate the success of the place-based work by Brent – as the partnership undertakes a particularly challenging roll-out of the new ‘Built for Zero’ initiative, using data to try and prevent homelessness in real-time.

Place-based work is ‘a long-term approach to identifying, understanding, and addressing social issues rooted in the experiences, expertise and relationships that exist within a recognised geographic area’ (reference needed) Crisis Skylight Brent is looking to deploy this methodology for two intended outcomes: to increase opportunities to end homelessness in the London Borough of Brent; and to add to Crisis’ learning about how ending homelessness can be delivered locally.

To help with this, Campbell Tickell carried out an evaluation of Crisis’ work in the area. Along with using in-depth semi-structured interviews with 22 stakeholders in senior and operational roles from public and voluntary sectors, the researchers also gathered quantitative data through a questionnaire completed by 31 members of the Brent Homelessness Forum – a place-based initiative funded by the Berkeley Foundation, consisting of around 200 members, 40-50 of whom meet bi-monthly – and two interviews with people with lived experience of homelessness.

Campbell Tickell evaluates homelessness support work in Brent

Source: Campbell Tickell

These testimonies illustrated how systems change has improved outcomes for individuals – but also highlighted new opportunities for the plans of Crisis. This is particularly important for the long-term realisation of Built for Zero – a data driven solution to ending homelessness in specific areas for different groups of people across Brent.

According to the study, the role of Crisis as a national charity has already proven crucial in connecting national and international approaches to local place-based work, and in helping achieve buy-in from partners. One interviewee from the public sector told Campbell Tickell that because Crisis has “a history, has built relationships, including with the council” it means that the charity is known by cabinet and council members, “even if they don’t have a working contact”.

This has helped to kickstart the Built for Zero initiative in Brent – which is the first place in the UK to trial the approach. As the new initiative aims to redesign how systems and services work together in local communities, so it’s possible to respond to real-time need, preventing and ending homelessness swiftly, Crisis has been able to secure buy-in with Brent’s council by building on the place-based work it has already carried out.

This work includes a number of activities: from a rough sleeper working group, task and finish groups around migrant homelessness, mental health, youth homelessness, evictions, and complex needs; to the establishment of the Brent Homelessness Forum. In particular, the Forum seems to have helped to solidify Crisis’ reputation in Brent – with the 31 respondents from the group mostly very positive about its impact on the sector. For example, 97% said being involved in the Forum was very or fairly significant, while 87% said it had strengthened sector relationships to help end homelessness in the area – and 81% of respondents said it had positively influenced their own ways of working.

Recommendations

This did not mean that there were no notes for improvement, however. Brent’s aim of ending homelessness would be a big task for any local authority, and will take time and resources to achieve. To that end, Campbell Tickell asserted that “it is important to recognise and value small incremental changes as they are often the foundation for bigger change” – and that in order to ensure this, “partnerships need to be nurtured to become well embedded,” with smaller groups or agencies “kept engaged and aware of place-based work and their contribution to it”.

To that end, Campbell Tickell spelled out a number of key goals for fostering the partnership between Crisis, Brent Council and the Berkeley Foundation. The researchers suggested first and foremost that there should be a continuation of working with Berkeley Foundation as an engaged funder, noting the benefits and impact of the funding so far “are clearly shown through the evaluation”, but that place based work also requires “a long-term commitment”. This will be important when it comes to meeting another recommendation; with the report finding that the partnership needs to continue to build “leadership capacity in both the public and voluntary sectors that can sustain place-based work – including “funding key posts”.

Recommendations specific to Crisis included developing “resource leadership across the sector”, to avoid “reliance on a few key individuals, who drive change”. To help with this process, the group also needs to grow its network, by reaching out to engage with and represent “marginalised and minoritised parts of the community”, and by strengthening the role of people with lived experience in place-based work. And Crisis should also “continue to maintain the connection between local place-based work and national housing and homeless policy and ensure a flow of information in both directions so that one can influence the other and vice versa.”

Finally, remembering to value incremental progress, Campbell Tickell presented recommendations for the long-term implementation of Brent’s Built for Zero approach. Noting “it will take time for the concept to be understood and supported”, and to overcome “barriers to sharing data” – compounded by “external pressures including a shortage of affordable accommodation, and the rising scale of homelessness” – the researchers asserted that the partnership needs to be “focused and realistic about what can be achieved through the initiative”. This is something the previously stated goals of regular communication of progress, stages and steps involved and promoting positive change will all help with.

They concluded, “Work towards a good, shared understanding of Built for Zero throughout homelessness organisations including frontline staff and volunteers will help ensure that new systems are used effectively throughout the homelessness system. One way to achieve this which is already working well is for senior leaders to model their commitment to it.”