Learning from the USA

Boston skylineMark Choonara, our Community and Faith-Based Projects Manager, recently undertook a research trip to the USA through the Transatlantic Practice Exchange.   We asked him a few questions about his experiences:

What exactly is the Transatlantic Practice Exchange?

The Transatlantic Practice Exchange (TPE) is a new initiative to share best practice between practitioners in the homelessness sectors from the UK and the US. Funded by the Oak Foundation and managed by Homeless Link (UK) and the National Alliance to End Homelessness (US), the exchange was developed to to share learning on specific areas or initiatives in each country and to introduce aspects of these areas of work into our respective homelessness services and systems on our return.

What was your chosen topic?

I was particularly interested in the work taking place to support former rough sleepers who have been accommodated in their own apartments, and on the efforts to help them integrate into their new community. I initially chose to focus on Housing First, and upon being matched with HomeStart in Boston, developed a particular focus on their Stabilisation service which offers support with tenancy maintenance community integration to a wide range of clients. This work seemed to be of particular relevance to Home for Good, a new service designed to support clients of The Passage to better manage the transition from homelessness to living in their own accommodation.

What did you take away from the experience?

I came away with a real appreciation of the value of investing in relationships. It’s an obvious issue, but by capping the caseloads of their Stabilisation Advocates, and sticking to very small caseloads for the Housing First service, HomeStart has achieved incredible results, with 96% and 92% of clients on these respective programmes sustaining their tenancies.

The success of these programmes can also be attributed to the long-term nature of support: once you’re been accommodated on a HomeStart Stabilisation voucher, you receive support for as long as you stay on the voucher which for some people can be many years or even permanently. This support is tailored to each individual and their changing (and hopefully, reducing) support needs over the years, so that whilst you might start out with fortnightly meetings, this can reduce to a quarterly phone call if that’s all that’s needed.

The experience also provided a real insight into the differences in the American – or at least the Massachusetts – system from that in place back home. I was particularly impressed with the focus on supporting clients to return to employment, and also returned with a lot of questions about our own reluctance in the UK to recognise a role for emergency temporary accommodation such as shelters to keep people off the streets, whilst also recognising that the existing shelter system in the US is in itself in need of reform. The use of Representative Payees to help clients manage their money is something I feel we should explore here in the UK as we move closer to the implementation of Universal Credit, and is an area on which we can learn much more from US services and their existing models of support.

The exchange also made me very grateful for the NHS and the access to healthcare that we enjoy in the UK, and made me realise the importance of the homelessness sector in defending the right to free healthcare at the point of access for our clients.

Where can readers find out more?

Further information on the TPE, along with information on the other participants and their areas of focus, can be found on Homeless Link’s website. I was also blogging about my experience throughout my placement, and hope to carry this on now that I’m back: the blog can be found at markchoonara.wordpress.com