How We Did It: Tackling Rough Sleeping

Rough sleeping is a real and heart-breaking challenge facing councils up and down the country.

In this instalment of our ‘How We Did It’ series, Shuff Tariq from Manchester City Council and Sarah Cooke from Bridges Outcomes Partnership explain how Manchester found homes for hundreds of rough sleepers through GM Homes Partnerships – one of the most successful homelessness projects in the UK.

Can you tell us a bit about the programme?

Shuff: The programme was funded by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, now the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and it was pre- the Homelessness Reduction Act. Greater Manchester was successful in securing £1.8m to fund a programme designed to help 300 rough sleepers off the streets from across all Greater Manchester’s ten boroughs. It was an outcomes-based contract, with a minimum outcome for 200 individuals, providing accommodation and early entry into accommodation. It also provided mental health support, drug and alcohol support, and access to education and training as a long-term outcome.

Sarah: The most significant thing we wanted to do was to change the system, change the approach, change the way everybody worked, and really bring all the different services together. The largest ambition that we had was the partnership; it was about collaborating with different services, with all our housing providers. It was about operating on a Greater Manchester level, but still taking a very individual and place-based approach, understanding that what needed to happen in Bolton was very different to what needed to happen in Trafford because they’re completely different communities in completely different areas.

We wanted to flip the system and the process, in response to the individuals that had been passed around the system for years. The individuals we were working with were incredibly complex, had a deep mistrust of services and had been excluded from a lot of services for anything up to 20 years. So we knew we had to do something different, and that was the fundamental basis for this programme – to make sure we did something in collaboration that was flexible, completely personalised and responsive to the individuals at the heart of what we were trying to achieve.

Shuff: From a commissioning perspective, rough sleeping levels were very low when we put the bids in. By the time it came to going out for procurement, doing the commissioning and getting a contractor in place, rough sleeping had increased by more than 200 times. The whole landscape had changed so much, rough sleeping was more visible across Greater Manchester, and Andy Burnham had become the new Mayor. The political pressure on the procurement side, the contractual side and the delivery side meant there was a lot of focus nationally and regionally on what we were going to embark on. It was about system change, not just at the Greater Manchester level, but at the locality level across the ten local authority areas.

Can you describe the funding model – what was different about it and what did it allow you to achieve?

Shuff: This was the first Greater Manchester social outcomes contract – we’d never tried anything like this before. We were coming out of our comfort zone and commissioning in a very different way. The work that I did behind the scenes in the lead up to going out to procurement was very different because we worked with all six national social outcomes contract holders as well – it wasn’t traditional commissioning.

…you hit the target but you miss the point because it’s all about numbers not people.

The provider had to do all the legwork in terms of finding a social investor, working with local communities, and identifying the key partners because it had to be a consortium bid. It was new to Greater Manchester, new to the service, and new to a Combined Authority, so it was a case of learning as we developed. But luckily, we had the necessary infrastructure within Greater Manchester. We had the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (pre- the Combined Authority), so we had a centralised commissioning and procurement function that was really supportive.

Sarah: From our perspective, everything was different. The flexibility of the funding enabled us to design the specification in any way that we knew would work for the individual. So rather than having a fixed pot of funding with a very rigid specification that’s quite punitive and restrictive in terms of what we need to do and how we need to do it – which is the traditional way of working with services – we had complete flexibility, complete freedom. All our focus was around achievements and outcomes for an individual, and that then played into the funding model behind it. We would only draw down payment when something was achieved for a person, rather than a block of payment regardless of what happened for those individuals. This stopped it being transactional and meant that it was very much led by personalisation.

We introduced the strengths-based way of working alongside that, because we had the flexibility in the funding model to do so. Everything was around what a person was going to achieve and where they wanted to be long term, rather than short term, key performance metrics, where you hit the target but you miss the point because it’s all about numbers not people. This funding mechanism allows you to move beyond that, and actually do everything you need to do for the individuals. And then in terms of value to public organisations and local and national government, you’re only paid when something is achieved for those individuals, so it’s a far more effective value for money model.

There are lots of different stakeholders in the project – 10 Greater Manchester Boroughs, housing providers, and delivery providers. Can you outline how you got buy in from all of them?

Sarah: It was my job to make sure the partnership actually worked as a unit. It was an extensive partnership, we started off with 17 different organisations and we graduated to about 21 in the end. One of the fundamental things that we did from the beginning was make sure that we all had a shared vision so we all knew what we wanted to achieve and how we could achieve that together. Within that, we all committed to shared learning, honesty, acknowledging when something had gone wrong, and learning from good practice.

We had a very clear governance structure made up of a central board and a number of operational partnership boards as well. So we had a collective of all of our housing providers, and we had a governance structure with all of the different local authority leads. We also had a very clear communications process and I acted as the conduit between all of the different governance structures. Everybody knew what was happening for the individuals that were a priority in their own areas.

In terms of the partnership between the housing providers, whatever was learned and discussed was then cascaded across the partnership. This way of working meant there was clear accountability, and it enabled innovation, flexibility, honesty, commitment and very clear communication with each other.

…it wouldn’t have happened without some really innovative and open changemakers.

There was an acceptance of failure – if something didn’t work, it didn’t mean it had failed, it meant that we hadn’t quite got it right yet. The shared vision and the shared approach kept the individuals at the centre and replicated learning across the programme at all times. But it wouldn’t have happened without some really innovative and open changemakers that were leading those different governance structures and were supporting us.

Because we were working on different levels, we had to make sure the frontline staff, the senior staff and the CEO levels across each of the partnerships believed in us and believed in what we were doing. The CEO’s communicated on our behalf, so when we had a challenge, we were able to use the different structures across Greater Manchester to problem solve and cascade information across the various organisations. So I think the shared commitment and the shared vision was fundamental, but also the agreement to have that honesty and open communication about what was happening.

Shuff: There were some push backs from local services that were already delivering services and working with people who were rough sleeping who thought: hang on a minute, we’re doing some of the work but they’re claiming some of that outcome payment, where does our role fit in? So GM Homes had to build relationships and partnerships, and we were there to support and to facilitate conversations.

We didn’t just have one conversation and then everyone was happy. We had to continuously have those conversations, build those relationships, be transparent, open and honest, invite people in to come and see the work that was happening. Ultimately, at a great Manchester and locality level, there was a shared vision. We were all trying to reduce the amount of people sleeping rough and it was about the best outcome for the individual, not for us as agencies.

GM Homes Partnership Co-production Forum

Can you tell us about the approach you took to working with the people accessing the service? 

Shuff: The ten local authority leads and their services were responsible for providing the referrals. This was done in partnership – it wasn’t about duplication of work – but at the locality level, they knew who their rough sleepers were and who fitted the criteria prescribed by the government. They made the referrals to the Combined Authority, .We acted as the centralised function, and would send the referrals on to GM Homes. When it came to working with these individuals, it was important to truly understand them. It wasn’t an option just to say “sorry, they’re not engaged. We’re not working with them”.

Sarah: The model and the approach were fundamentally different – we gave people second, third, fourth chances. We were completely personalised in what we were doing, we knew that they had multiple and complex needs, and we knew that they didn’t trust normal services. So we adapted our approach and our model so it was completely in line with learning from them and learning from the different local authorities.

The three key areas that were different, and that enabled that engagement were: trust, collaboration and systems change. A big factor that affected the trustin our service was that 60% of our staff team had lived experience. They knew what somebody had gone through, they knew how to communicate, and they knew where people might be. We did a lot of outreach and delivered our support in communities. If we knew that somebody was uncomfortable coming into an office, we would go and support them in the park. We spent hours and hours sitting outside ASDA with one individual because that was where he was comfortable.

We did this in a strengths-based way, where individuals felt that they had the power and the autonomy, and we were responding to them, rather than us forcing them to fit within our system and our process. We also brought in asset coaches, so rather than ‘fixing’ people or informing them about what they needed to do, we listened to them, we let them lead the support, and the asset coach consistently built on their strengths, ambitions, goals and passions. So although the main ambition was to get somebody into accommodation, we worked to identify what was important to that individual, what would enable that individual to feel safe in that accommodation, what would enable that individual to sustain that home when they hadn’t previously, and what could we do to adapt and to respond.

We spent hours and hours sitting outside ASDA with one individual because that was where he was comfortable.

In line with that is thecollaboration across all the different services. To keep someone engaged with us, we had to make sure they didn’t feel like they were still getting passed around the system. We had to make sure that whatever we did complemented all the services, and actually was beneficial. We had a personalisation fund and we were able to draw on some of that flexible funding to enable people to choose what support they wanted.

For example, two young men were involved in antisocial behaviour which put their tenancy at risk. We looked into the cause of their behaviour and they told us they were bored, so we found out what they loved doing and what they found engaging. One of them loved going fishing with his granddad when he was younger so we used the personalisation fund to buy him and his friend some fishing equipment. They spent the weekends somewhere purposeful, doing something positive and being mindful. This improved their mental health and meant their accommodation was no longer at risk. Where traditionally someone would have lost their accommodation, we addressed the causes behind certain behaviours which enabled them to sustain their home.

And that’s what we did for everybody, we looked beyond the presenting problem, using an Asset Based approach to identify someone’s strengths, skills and ambitions to motivate and engage and work with them to find a solution. Removing the reliance on public services, or conditionality of support and empowering them to resolve on a long term basis.

Shuff: For me, the other element of that story is legacy – what is the long-term ambition of the individual and what is the long-term impact of the service on the individual. A big learning that came out of the programme is that the first approach, or the first type of accommodation for an individual, might not always be right. It wasn’t a closed-door kind of a policy, we had to keep trying. That was the beauty of the approach that GM Homes took. There was an understanding that not everybody would get an accommodation outcome, or a mental health support outcome, or an employment or training outcome.

What impact did the programme have – how many people benefitted?

Sarah: In terms of the numbers, the scale of the partnership was phenomenal. Initially, we wanted to work with 200 people. But within the first six months, we had nearly 500 referrals. So immediately, we had to make a decision. Fundamentally, we wanted to do the right thing for the people needing this service. So the question was how can we respond and adapt? We applied for some additional funding to scale the project up, and we ended up working with 537 individuals. Of those, 406 engaged which is massive as these are people that traditionally had pushed back from services. We enabled 356 individuals to access accommodation and to sustain for up to twelve months, 281 of those individuals are still in their homes today.

We knew it was working because the individuals that had previously not engaged with services were now responding and were able to move into the accommodation. And a fundamental difference is that the accommodation that they were moving into was stable and permanent. They were moving into their own tenancy, rather than the traditional route of going into supported housing and then into the tenancy and then back into supported accommodation again. Having a permanent base enabled the individual to stabilise and then we put the support around them that enabled that long term sustainment and independence.

Visit the GM Homes Partnerships website here and Twitter feed here.

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