Data and collaboration to solve rough sleeping

Street sleeping is all too frequent in modern cities and increasingly regional towns. For years, the problem has been seen as one of management, rather than solution.

But now, a new approach built on the belief that street sleeping can be solved is being rolled out as part of a NSW-wide collaboration involving government, philanthropy and not-for-profits.

The approach features the combination of collaboration and data to enable rough sleepers’ personal stories to become the fundamental step towards changing their circumstance and ultimately ending the problem.

Jennifer Cordingley, Head of Strategy and Engagement at the End Street Sleeping Collaboration, says that in the past, the scale of the solutions to street sleeping – such as more social housing – were significant undertakings. “This is a new approach that does solve street sleeping and it solves it through prevention,’’ she says.

“And so the scale of the impact is very significant. It’s unique in so far as we haven’t had this model before – we haven’t had the data plus collaboration model available to us in the past.’’

The approach is based on the Institute of Global Homelessness (IGH) methodology that has already shown positive results in several international cities: a 28 per cent reduction in street sleeping in Chicago between 2015 and 2019, and a 37 per cent reduction in Manchester between 2018 and 2019.

The End Street Sleeping Collaboration was set up under a joint commitment between the IGH, the NSW State Government and homelessness NGOs, and aims to halve street sleeping in NSW by 2025 and to end it by 2030. The broader consequence of such a methodology is its potential impact on many areas of disadvantage.

The critical piece in the methodology is what’s called the Real Time By-Name list that provides data about each rough sleeper and the added details that will increase support agency collaboration on the ground.

Dominic Sullivan, a director of the PAYCE Foundation (the founding philanthropic partner of the collaboration), says the By-Name list will ultimately have information about every rough sleeper in Sydney and NSW.

“And for the first time, we will know their name and that’s terribly important because we’ll know their story,’’ he says.

“We’ll know their history in relation to health, to housing, to employment, to mental health, and it will allow us to plan for each individual, a pathway out.’’

The tool was developed with the support of the Berg Family Foundation, The Graham Mapp Foundation and the Property Industry Foundation, and is an easy-to-use Microsoft Power App. Data can be entered from any mobile device and updates are made in real time. Work on the App was completed last October and it was used for the first time a month later in the Byron Shire in NSW.

Jennifer explains that the technology enables those working with rough sleepers to be able to share data among government agencies and service providers in a way that enhances on-ground support and solutions.

“This new approach will enable frontline workers to collaborate and share their resources, so it breaks down the existing siloed system,’’ she says.

It will also overcome the aversion many rough sleepers have to repeating their story to a range of workers trying to help them. Dominic says: “The tool will advocate for them by enabling each agency to know the full story and what that means is they can access the information and plan and strategise from there.’’

But perhaps just as important as the By-Name list technology, is the longer-term consequence of the data it collects that can underpin lasting change.

“The exciting thing about the project and the data approach is that once we know the stories of hundreds and thousands of individuals, we’re then able to plan the necessary system change at a much higher level, which will give long term sustainable impact in reducing the inflow of people to the streets,’’ Dominic explains.

“That’s what’s excited us as funders – to say it’s not business as usual when it comes to trying to end homelessness as it relates to rough sleepers, this will be a truly innovative approach and methodology.’’

The data has already shown that the average time rough sleepers in Sydney have been on the street is five and a half years. It has also revealed that a quarter of Sydney rough sleepers were in prison at some stage in the previous six months. Many had left jail with no place to go and went straight to rough sleeping. The policy response then becomes one of ensuring there is adequate accommodation planning in place for those leaving jail well in advance of them being released.

But the data will not be the same everywhere: the lesson of the overseas experience is that each location is different and therefore each local solution is different.

“While we can plan at a high level, it will be the local regional roll out teams that will have the direct responsibility for both collecting the data and also delivering those solutions in the local context,’’ Dominic says.

Central to the evolution of the project is the shared spirit of collaboration, most particularly with philanthropy.

“The philanthropic contribution is going to be a real opportunity for philanthropists to come with a keen eye for investment and focus that will not only aim to improve outcomes from collaboration but seek to fund particular pieces of work, whether that be impact work or research work or as the PAYCE Foundation managed to do, to fund the backbone, which was the staffing requirements of the organisation,’’ Dominic says.

“We see there being a real opportunity for innovation in funders coming together in a similar collaborative fashion.’’

Watch End Street Sleeping Collaboration video here

Philanthropy Australia is hosting an End Street Sleeping Peer Network. Register interest hereThis meeting is available to Active, Engaged, Impact and New Gen NSW Funder members only.

Date: 3 June 2021
Time: 10-11.45am AEST
Location: Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Sydney

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