NEWSMAKER: The personal touch - Shaks Ghosh, Chief executive, Crisis

LUCY MAGGS

Shaks Ghosh has been a determined campaigner for housing and homelessness issues for most of her career. "What I feel passionately about is justice,

says the chief executive of Crisis. "Every time I meet a homeless person I am aware of the injustices they face when it comes to opportunities and public perception.

She feels that tackling the problem of homelessness is about more than bricks and mortar. "It's about people,

she says. "What makes people homeless is personal crisis."

Crisis has always been known as an innovative organisation and Ghosh is overseeing its new focus on the emotional issues that surround homelessness.

She says that without the proper emotional support people can be provided with accommodation but may not able to maintain a decent standard of living or continue living in a property at all. Many organisations in the sector continue to tackle the problem of helping to find shelter for people and Ghosh feels that Crisis's new focus will complement this. "With the others focusing on housing, it gives us the capacity to do things like empowering people."

As part of the change in focus, Crisis has set up two projects, both of which take a very personal approach. Changing Lives helps homeless people receive practical training to get back to work or set up a new business. The second, Skylight, provides activity workshops in partnership with the homeless person's theatre group, Cardboard Citizens, which will run theatre, samba and salsa classes.

Crisis's office will be relocated to the new Skylight premises in near Liverpool Street, London, Ghosh is very enthusiastic about the day-to-day contact the staff will have with clients as a result of this move.

"It is so motivating when you can see homeless people responding and changing. It will be very energising for the staff."

It seems that the organisation's new focus is very much driven by Ghosh's own very personal and passionate approach to her work. She says she finds it impossible to detach herself. "I only have to go to eat out in Islington, or through a mainline train station on the way home, and I see people there from our Open Christmas, in a sense they are old friends."

Crisis, as a fairly small charity, is well placed to deliver such innovative projects. Recently emerging from abandoned merger talks with Shelter, Ghosh says the charity has come to understand more about what makes it unique and what its contribution can be to the sector. "As the merger talks progressed we realised that we would be better placed to deliver imaginative and flexible services, which would adapt to the changing needs of homeless people and offer them choice, as a smaller and more organic organisation,

she says.

The charity was working on its new agenda and services before it entered into talks with Shelter. "When the merger didn't happen, we decided it would be a good idea to announce our position alongside the new services,

says Ghosh.

The change in focus will also mean that the charity will concentrate more on its work with the "hidden homeless". It estimates that as many as 400,000 homeless people are living in hostels, B&Bs, squats or on their friend's floors. "There is a perception that if a person is not on the streets their life can't be that bad really. But people in hostels and squats are leading a knife edge existence, their lives are in complete crisis, even if their suffering is invisible,

says Ghosh.

The public perception of homelessness still tends to be of rough sleepers and as a result the issue mainly comes to the fore during winter. This is something Ghosh is keen to tackle. "The challenge facing every homelessness charity is to make sure it is seen as a year round problem,

she says.

Crisis ran a hidden homelessness campaign last December and this week launched the second phase, which will include research into hidden homeless people's experiences, a public awareness advertising campaign and a new web site dedicated to the issue. Ghosh says that this is just the start.

She feels that the charity has an important campaigning role to play.

"We need to present to the public the misery of hidden homelessness, we see people every day in this situation, but the public doesn't. We need to be eloquent and articulate and get this across to them."

It seems likely that the new campaign will generate a lot of publicity. Crisis's campaigns have always hit hard and it has made a great impact in the past considering its relatively small size.

The refocus has three main aims: to increase the number of donors and volunteers; to make the term hidden homeless as well-known as rough sleepers; and, most importantly, to ensure its services are relevant to today's homeless. Evaluation will be an important part of the refocus reflecting the mood of the sector, where organisations are finding it increasingly important to be clear about what they are trying to achieve and the impact they are having.

Ghosh says that Crisis has a streamlined evaluation process in place to assess services. When it comes to campaigning it will evaluate and see if the policy changes it is pushing for are being achieved. "If you want to position yourself as an innovator in the sector, you have to evaluate what you are doing,

says Ghosh.

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