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‘Under One Roof’

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On the 4 July I took part in a panel at Homeless Link’s annual conference. Although I don’t start as Director for another month or so, I have been able to make a few events and meetings to get to know key partners and ascertain the lie of the land. My first proper day’s work for Collective Voice was therefore marked by attending a national conference outside my sector and speaking off the cuff in front of 200 people! There’s nothing like starting at the deep end. A few things struck me.

Have I been here before?

Despite having never attended a conference focused solely on homelessness before the day felt oddly familiar. Recognisable kinds of people made recognisable kinds of points. Core messages emerged that will be familiar to readers:

  • as a front-line worker I’m struggling to deliver a high quality of service whilst the fabric of my service is being eroded by the restrictions of funding
  • I welcome innovative projects but they are time-limited and I don’t want them to divert cash or attention from the core offer of support
  • we are worried there isn’t enough resource to sustain the system and attain good outcomes for our clients
  • we welcome the recent government attention paid to our cause but we aren’t yet 100% convinced it will lead to the structural change we need.

Our people are your people

So why did it feel familiar? Because when viewed systemically homelessness functions similarly to entrenched substance misuse and affects similar populations of people with similar characteristics and sets of life challenges. Or to put it another way, as I did on the day, “our people are your people”. Not all the time of course; the majority of substance users will never be homeless. But there is a powerful vortex formed by the overlapping and interlocking domains of multiple need (substance misuse, homelessness, offending, mental ill health plus other factors) which can ruin lives and necessitate joined up and politically savvy responses. Partnerships will be key – which is why I’m so excited to be shortly joining Collective Voice, and why meeting Ollie at MEAM and Nina at The Criminal Justice Alliance are two of the meetings I’ve already got in my diary.

Systems – big, invisible, complex and in flux

Systems were a topic of animated discussion. Although I’m no expert in their theory or formally trained in their approaches, applying a systems lens to the peculiar world we inhabit seems like a sensible thing to do, both to map its terrains and to help martial a coordinated response to its threats.

When I speak to people ‘in’ drugs and alcohol repeated themes emerge: general instability, high workforce churn, a lack of cash to deliver against the substantial evidence base, complex client group, loss of commissioning expertise, an apparent disconnect between national and local policy. What are the common characteristics these challenges share? Change and complexity: both crucial components of the DNA of systems thinking.

Systems change is something I’d like to explore a lot more in my new role, having been inspired by the approaches of Lankelly Chase and many others.

A proud day

‘Under One Roof’ was of course just the start. I’m looking forward to fighting the good fight with colleagues at Collective Voice, the wider sector and beyond. If you’d like to join me in doing that, or just say hello, please connect with me via Twitter, LinkedIn or Medium. I hope to be blogging pretty regularly about Collective Voice’s work, drugs and alcohol, leadership and systems over the coming months.

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Collective Voice is the national charity working to improve England’s drug and alcohol treatment and recovery systems