Back in July, I visited Thames Reach, a London, England-based charity that helps homeless and vulnerable people find decent homes, access employment and training and lead fulfilling lives. Over the course of four days, I had the privilege of visiting their various facilities, learning about their programs and realizing the similarities and differences between our two organizations.
In many cases, it’s not that our two organizations are that different – after all we have similar missions and values – but it’s the government policies and mandates, and our respective unique environments that set us apart.
Here’s one example:
In England, there is one homeless (i.e. rough sleeper) referral line. And all the work that flows from it is entered into a national, online database, and then contracted out to specific organizations.
In the Greater London Area, Thames Reach is one of those contracted organizations and they are a major provider of street outreach services. Each of their teams consist of one staff member and one volunteer – the staff member does all of the direct client work and the volunteer generally answers the phones, drives, and brings other valuable skills (such as a second language) to the team. These teams support the ‘no 2nd night out’ policy for people new to the street and the initiative aims to intervene assertively and quickly.
Last year, Thames Reach received approximately 1,300 referrals for rough sleepers through this process and it’s my understanding that their teams were successful in assisting a great number of people through this system.
In this case, an obvious difference between London and Toronto is that here, the City of Toronto keeps street outreach as a part of its direct services portfolio, rather than centralizing the coordinating function and contracting out the direct services like London does. Yet London, which has a larger rough sleeper population than Toronto, has proven that a centralized system can effectively address the problem through commissioning or contracting out to community agencies with the right set of accountabilities.
Building relationships with like-minded organizations such as Thames Reach has a tremendous impact on what we do. Although we can’t technically work together, we can learn from each other, adopt a best practice or two and use their success stories to explore changes to our programs and services, enabling us to better help the community that we serve.