Agency staff to train for change

KIRSTEN DOWNER

Staff at London homelessness charities are being trained in leadership skills and strategy in a bid to save many of them from going out of business.

The £150,000 a year IMPACT programme, launched yesterday, is an innovative attempt by grant-maker the London Housing Foundation to build the capacity of the sector rather than simply fund services.

"For agencies which work well and work well together, this is a time of wonderful opportunity,

said Kevin Ireland, executive director of London Housing Foundation. "But for those not prepared, there are major threats."

"Seismic

changes in the homelessness sector mean that charity employees, especially chief executives, will have to become better at measuring impacts and selling what they do to local authorities, said Ireland. If not, they may find themselves losing funds in favour of other vulnerable groups such as the elderly or drug users.

More than 250 senior executives, trustees and frontline staff will be trained in leadership skills, evaluating and managing outcomes and strategic planning.

Homelessness charities face particular problems demonstrating outcomes because the problems of their client group are so entrenched, said Ireland.

"Rather than securing jobs or training, for some an impact will be simply having the confidence to go and talk to someone,

he said.

The subsidised courses will also give charity chief executives a chance to network and discuss solutions to key challenges facing the sector, said Jeremy Swain, chief executive of Thames Reach Bondway and one of the recipients of the programme.

In many cases, this could mean mergers or joint working in order to avoid duplication, he said.

"There are too many homelessness agencies in London and over the next few years there will be many more mergers and groups going to the wall,

said Swain. "Those on an income of between £1 million and £10 million are particularly vulnerable."

The London-based initiative could later be rolled out across the country if other funders came on board, said Ireland.

Homelessness agencies face particular problems in London but statutory and funding changes will affect the whole sector.

The Homelessness Act puts the onus on local authorities to prevent people from having no where to live. From 2003 homelessness charities will have to compete with other agencies representing excluded groups such as the elderly for a share of the new Supporting People Fund, also channelled through local authorities.

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