I was fortunate to recently attend the Centre for Homelessness Impact‘s annual Impact Forum.  With an impressive line-up, speakers included Felicity Buchan MP, Minister for Housing and Homelessness; John Bird, founder of The Big Issue; frontline workers; CEOs of homelessness charities; and a panel of lived experience associates. It was a day of inspirational presentations, passionate debate and a call for action to all.

Ligia Teixeira, CEO of the Centre for Homelessness Impact, opened the conference:

“The rising tide of homelessness is a formidable challenge. But a challenge that we can address together!”

This set the theme for the day; to connect, to gather knowledge and to inspire hope. All with an adamant belief that homelessness is a truly surmountable challenge.

Looking back on my reams of notes, it is hard to put the true impact of the words spoken that day into print. It was a privilege to be present, to witness a room full of people nodding in agreement, connecting, and sharing their learnings. Most of all, it was a privilege to hear the stories of those who have felt the impact of homelessness first-hand.

As the day went on, key themes dominated my notes: hope, challenge, humanity, connection and inspiration. As the causes of homelessness are complex, so too are the solutions. One common understanding was that systemic change can only happen with a multidisciplinary approach.

The impact of the individual.

Another message that left no room for interpretation was that individuals can make incredible differences. Luke, a lived experience associate, spoke about a pivotal moment in his journey for independence — the simple act of one person holding out his hand to help him up from the ground.

Another person talked about the time that a caseworker looked at them and smiled. Such simple acts of kindness allowed them to lower their guard, start conversations, and take the first small steps in finding a way out of the cycle.

It’s in those moments of individual kindness and connection that real change can happen.

The power of relationships.

Another common theme was relationships.

Relationship breakdowns are the leading catalyst for people to experience homelessness. It follows that building new relationships is at the heart of getting people experiencing homelessness out of the cycle.

Further, there’s no denying that the relationships between professionals in the sector are also vital. Professionals in the homelessness sector must be open to sharing data, personal experiences, successful interventions, and worthwhile appropriation of public funds. All with the common goal of making the most impactful and tangible difference to this community.

I left with the understanding that we cannot underestimate this challenge. How can we work together across the sector when so many organisations are under intense pressure? Liam Byrne, Birmingham MP, noted that real change must happen within government. Housing, social care and education departments must work together to bring about true systemic change.

Misconceptions around homelessness continue to challenge the sympathy and support of the public. While we often see an increase in giving around Christmas, public sympathy tends to turn with the weather. As the snow on the street thaws, people return to outdated assumptions that condemn our homeless communities.

So how can we change for the better?

Now, more than ever, organisations tackling homelessness need strong leaders who can give the energy and focus required to handle complex issues. Emotional intelligence and thick skin are imperative to these leaders as they continue to mobilise and energise a dedicated workforce who face the challenges of having very few tangible immediate solutions to the problems they face.

A final thought

My number one takeaway from the day was the words of the lived experience associates.

What made the difference to them? It wasn’t yuletide sympathies.

It was access to public living rooms and the connections that gave them hope in their isolation.

And so I leave you with one final thought: the smallest act can snowball into the greatest change.

Clare Chesworth is a Senior Consultant for our Not for Profit Practice. Clare is passionate about recruiting executive and board leaders for organisations tackling homelessness. With an empathetic and driven approach, Clare can find the right leaders to suit your mission. If you’d like to get in touch with her, you can connect with Clare on Linkedin or send her an email.