News: Friends Day 2022 – address by CEO of The Connection, Pam Orchard

It’s lovely to be here under far more “normal” circumstances and it does seem like things are settling into more recognisable patterns and routines after an incredibly disrupted year.

We’ve been putting everything back together again – both in terms of our direct work with clients and all of the supporting functions. There is nothing like 2 years of massive disruption to force you to think radically about whether “how it was” is right for the future.

We have put in place an adjusted service model with a focus on people experiencing severe and multiple disadvantage. We have previously used the term “complex needs”. The language is important. The causes of someone’s rough sleeping are many and varied. This includes structural/societal drivers like income inequality, poor quality housing, childhood trauma or a lack of access to treatment. Unfortunately, sometimes the language and communications used by homelessness charities inadvertently gives the impression that rough sleeping is as a result of ill-advised individual decision making.

Our decision to work with the people who are most in need and have fallen through all of the safety nets available. To do this really well means we need our team to have the skills, professional development and support to do a great job. As a result we have two interlinking projects which are about service quality.

• The first is the definition of a Theory of Change – i.e. what is it we think needs to happen to facilitate profound change in the lives of the people we support.

Our Theory of Change is based on the assumption that if you build a really good relationship of trust with someone, the rest is much more likely to follow (housing, treatment, GP, benefits etc). We also see a role in using the experience we have to influence wider society and policy makers alike – to truly share a collective responsibility for people sleeping rough.

• The second is a powerful project with the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust to develop a defined psychological framework to support our team to work consistently to reflect “The Connection way of doing things”.

This uses several well established theories – some of which you may recognise me mentioning in the past. This includes Trauma Informed Care, Strengths Based, Solution Focused etc.

Jargon aside, the starting position is that everybody we work with at The Connection has agency and can therefore effect change for themselves. This change can be hard, slow, rarely straightforward and sometimes people can get stuck.

We are currently training all of our staff in this approach and we are building our monitoring systems around it so that we can demonstrate impact more effectively. We will be launching an explanation and possibly an animation in the spring of next year, which we hope will bring the approach to life. In the meantime, I invite you to “notice” the change in the way we are communicating about our work with the strong emphasis on relationships.

This emphasis on relationships means that alongside all the assessment, case work etc that you hear us talking about, we have also been using the activities programme as a means to build less formal and more fun relationships between staff and clients. This means things like art, music, photography, gardening and table tennis are back on the agenda and with a new focus.

Another area we’ve been looking at is the rise in women as a proportion of rough sleepers. The numbers have been slowly creeping up over the past 10 to 12 years from about 10% to about 20%. Our partnership with Solace Women’s Aid over the past 2 years has led very successfully to a Women’s Development Unit. We launched a strategy for tackling women’s homelessness across London in October last year. This emphasised the importance of having women only space and attending to specific issues that affect women – including that their homelessness tends to be hidden.

As a result, we have developed a women only space at The Connection on a Wednesday. We are also developing St Martins House as a specialist scheme for women who have been sleeping rough – available for boroughs in South London. We are working with the Trust on the fundraising for a capital development to complement and enhance these plans. We are also involved with London Councils in the first ever census for women’s rough sleeping across London in the first week of October. This will give a much better sense of the issues facing rough sleeping women and the needs of this group.

The pandemic has been immensely disruptive and difficult in lots of ways, but it has also given us the impetus to modernise all of supporting structures such as HR and finance systems. This means greater efficiency and accountability. We have also made a step change in our communications work – which I mentioned earlier – to help us to speak much more confidently about our work. You’ll see that more and more in the coming year or two.

We have also focused our advocacy work on “treatment” responses and we will be using our own evidence of what works such as the Outreach Clinic we have been running with health partners for a few years, along with “best practice” nationally and internationally. Treatment approaches for our clients need to be run differently – with far greater flexibility than is currently the case.

Finally, our 5 year strategy is in its final year. We are beginning to shape new plans for 2023 – 28. Thanks to those who have already given feedback in our stakeholder questionnaire. We have some areas of work we’d like to look at in more detail including developing accommodation, more outreach based on our relational approach and a greater emphasis on evidence of impact.

The pandemic gave us very little to celebrate but the halving of rough sleeping was a great outcome. However, things are fast moving in the wrong direction and this is a huge concern.

At the last count rough sleeping numbered 699, 231 of whom were new to the streets. Overall, this is up 162 on the same period last year. The increase is mainly “intermittent” i.e. people who come and go on the streets (106) and 56 new rough sleepers. The number coming off the streets after one night is about the same – so that “engine” is working again. However, the numbers coming on have increased so we’ll see numbers of people living on the streets for longer periods of time rising again. The proportion of UK to non UK is still about half and half. However, EEA countries are now at 40% – 27% alone is Romania, so “rest of world” is down. We are not seeing Ukrainian rough sleepers at this stage. 19.5% of those rough sleeping are women.

So – We still need to be here and we need your support and help, working with people to move away from the streets. Thank you.