The latest official figures show an estimated 4,751 people in England were forced to sleep outside in 2016, up 15% on the previous year and on the rise for the seventh year running. Tackling and preventing homelessness is one of the biggest challenges facing cities and local government. Furthermore, the Government’s new Homelessness Reduction Act, will place more responsibility on local government to prevent homelessness when it comes into force in April 2018.
With a renewed focus on prevention, techUK with the LGiU hosted a roundtable on 30 January to bring together local government and tech industry to discuss how the sectors can collaborate most effectively across the policy eco-system and within communities to prevent homelessness. It was also a chance to learn and share what colleagues in other councils are already doing, as well as to discuss the potential of digital to transform service outcomes. We were delighted to have Hackney, Devon. Camden, Wolverhampton, Sevenoaks Council and London Ventures attend and share what they’ve been doing on preventing homelessness.
Before we kicked off the discussion Lucy Knight, Open Data Lead, Devon County Council provided some opening remarks. A key point Lucy raised was that we often talk about data sharing but what we need is shareable data, data that is fit for purpose. Furthermore, how we share data needs a far more coherent approach. It was also stressed that digital is about how it can make things better, in this instance helping the citizen to navigate the system efficiently without having to share their story multiple times to different people.
We then heard from Joanna Huxton, National Liaison Manager, Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing about the cultural barriers to data sharing and the importance of a common purpose when setting-up partnerships with the purpose of doing things differently. This was a point raised in the discussion later, often how to reach out and collaborate on a practical level is a challenge and articulating a common purpose can overcome this.
To effectively tackle the issue it was agreed we need to address the whole person needs and engage other services in design, from public health to police to town centres.
Use of Apps
The councils in the room shared their experiences and projects in using digital to tackle homelessness. Hackney Council are beginning by mapping the customer journey, seeing how data can be used more intelligently to sign-post and intervene. Camden and Wolverhampton council spoke about their respective apps (Safer Streets and Street Link) that enables members of the public to connect people sleeping rough with the local services that can support them.
It is much cheaper to do interventions and as such looking at touch points and tackling the causes of homelessness will be far more effective. It is useful to know common trends, common geography to help inform the tech solution also. The focus needs to be on people and outcomes.
Getting the Process Right
A common theme that was discussed was the importance of getting the process right around the system. This needs to be tackled before we even look at the data to predict and prevent homelessness. This is
Creating the space to share best practice
A question raised was how do we make sure that the good work happening across councils is shared. Are we not all trying to solve the same issue but yet difficult to find out where the best practice is as there is no physical space to share this information. It was noted to also look internationally for good work in this area. San Francisco and their use of ship containers as alternative accommodation was referenced.
In response to this, LGiU mentioned they’re putting together a pack of case studies on the Homelessness Reduction Act.
Another suggestion was to work with techUK on a homelessness hackathan, working together to solve various challenges.
More than Just a Tick-Box Exercise
The general consensus in the room was that the Homelessness Reduction Act should not just be seen as a compliance issue but an opportunity to take a more innovative approach to prevention and ultimately designing out homelessness.
Other Blogs & Further Information:
Can harnessing digital help prevent homelessness? by Bobby Chandan, Market director, Capita Transformation, Local Public Services
We would like to use this roundtable to continue the conversation around homelessness prevention and share best practice. If you are a council or supplier and have a case study to share please do get in touch.
This is part of a series of roundtables techUK and LGiU are looking to host. If you have any views or thoughts on further service areas you would like us to focus on please do get in touch.