Philip Foster, Deputy Coordinator, describes Petrus' innovative new Rough Sleepers Project.
How did the Rough Sleepers Project come about?
Because of Petrus’ longstanding engagement with rough sleepers in our Day Centre and in other residential based services. It was a natural extension of work we’d been doing for many years. After internal discussions in the organisation and involvement in the GROW partnership that we wanted to go down the route of employing people who had previously used support services. To do this we developed the idea of the Roughsleeper trainee posts.
Tell us about your partnership with CLG and Rochdale Council?
The CLG have previously funded an Outreach service via Rochdale Council with Petrus. The purpose of that service has been to provide short term support to people primarily in accommodation who are epxeriencing issues that might put their tenancy at risk. Petrus has been actively involved in partnership working around addressing street homelessness in the Borough. Early on, after the project started, as a result of Supporting people funding, in September 2009, we identified the aspiration to engage people who had experienced homelessness in some form or other in the project in a paid capacity. RMBC Homelessness has an active role in the running of the Project and was enthusiastic about the idea of service user employment and successfully bid for the initial funding for it from the CLG. RMBC Homelessness and Supporting People were involved in recruiting the post. We’ll be working with the Supporting People team and Hopwood Hall college in Rochdale and other providers to get learning opportunities for the trainees and NVQ qualifications.
Why did you decide to ringfence the posts for people with a personal experience of homelessness?
Employment is a big issue (excuse the pun) for people who have experienced homelessness. The posts are trainee posts and as such were designed specifically for individuals who might not have the ‘qualifications’ for entering mainstream housing support. We initially felt that the experiences and abilities of people who have experienced homelessness are hugely underused in projects that provide accommodation and support and that the possibility that they might be fruitfully involved in such work is not promoted or supported enough. We wanted the posts to provide a pathway for those who had previously used services. We also felt that the prospect of providing a direct route from homelessness to employment was a powerful way to show that this was possible.
How did you advertise the posts?
We used our normal recruitment process (local press and our website) and promoted the post through the supported housing network, including the Supporting People service user involvement group.
Did you do anything differently in the recruitment process?
We stressed that having experienced homelessness/support was an essential requirement of the post. Otherwise, we limited experience in the person spec and emphasised looking at the commitment people were prepared to make to the service in terms of training, providing support, looking at diversity etc. We shortlisted as per our usual process but ahead of interviews had an informal sessionwith all candidates, familiarising them with our interview process and giving them the chance to ask any questions they might have about it.
What benefits do you see for current service users of having people with personal experience of homelessness in the staff team?
It’s obvious that, if the relationship works, somebody who has actually experienced homelessness will have a credibility and an authority and a value as a positive role model that other staff can’t have.
Have there been any difficulties and how did you overcome these?
The successful candidates have only just come into post over the last few days so it’s too early to comment just yet. There might well be difficulties but it’s hard to see how these will be diffierent in kind from workaday HR difficulties which can be dealt with through the normal processes any organisation has in place to develop and support staff.
What tips would you give to other organisations wishing to set up a similar initiative?
There’s nothing mysterious about the process – discuss the principle with relevant staff and get on with it. Don’t make the issue any more complex than it needs to be. In the main, the pool of people in any town who have had direct experience of homelessness is going to include a substantial number of people whose experience will be invaluable to homelessness projects. Mostly this is an issue about attitudes and confidence which supported housing providers and stakeholders should be addressing as a matter of priority. If we as a vocational sector can’t lead in addressing service user employment needs then how can we expect to have credibility in finding employment opportunities for service users elsewhere?