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City-wide approaches to address homelessness and insecure shelter

Our latest Community of Practice (CoP) webinar, held on 21st April 2022, discussed “city-wide approaches” that bring together community-based groups, statutory authorities and people with lived experience of homelessness and insecure shelter. City-wide approaches can strengthen collaboration, build stronger systems, and address the root causes of insecure shelter. But how do CoP members do this in practice?


How to start working with city-wide approaches?


Butterflies (India) assists street children and their families to help resolve broken relationships and family trauma. Butterflies works with community-level groups, such as child protection committees, where different city stakeholders work together to tackle the problems for young people living in poverty. These committees are excellent platforms to raise concerns and to hold officials accountable. According to Butterflies, working through local committees is a fundamental step for shifting from a reactive to a preventative approach to homelessness.


Another strategy deployed by Butterflies is to support the creation of grassroots groups of young people. They work with these groups to raise awareness of their housing rights, identify barriers to accessing them (e.g.: lack of a personal identification documents) and design potential solutions. The work of these groups exemplifies the value of community action to support public agencies (e.g., encouraging the take up of vaccinations during the Covid-19 pandemic and resolving local disputes thereby reducing the involvement of local police), that help to strengthen city-wide relations.


How to maintain dialogue with stakeholders over time?


The Safer Renting programme from Cambridge House (United Kingdom) also uses city-wide approaches to tackle the housing crisis in London. During the webinar, they shared two lessons for maintaining alliances with city stakeholders over time.


The first lesson was not to make assumptions when choosing partners. They learnt this after partnering with a stakeholder that had a very different culture, which made it difficult to work together. Consequently, Cambridge House suggested to ‘shop around’ in unlikely places (which may lead to unexpected great partners!), and to value shared motivations and culture rather than just funding possibilities when developing partnerships.


The second lesson was to share a common goal with stakeholders. Cambridge House recommended to “look for what you can offer and create a shared culture. Keep track of the relationship in outcome-based, holistic ways rather than (just) contractual arrangements”. One way to improve relationships is to share knowledge and skills, which they refer to as ‘training swaps’. Safer Renting started to implement training swaps during the Covid-19 pandemic, since it was an effective way to keep momentum with different stakeholders. As they explained: “people were forgetting we existed, but the training helped us show them that we are still here”. The training was also effective at building and maintaining a shared culture.


How to know when you are having an impact?


Habitat for Humanity (Zambia) shared their experience working with city-wide approaches to tackle homelessness and insecure housing at one of the biggest informal settlements in Sub-Saharan Africa. First, Habitat defines their expected outcomes for Makululu’s inhabitants, for example: increased knowledge on land tenure and housing rights; increased access to, and use of, financial services; and acquisition of land documents and construction of incremental houses. Second, they have established how to gather data to verify the programme’s impacts, that is, baseline and midline independent surveys, focus group discussions, impact stories, and (savings, and occupancy license) databases. Lastly, they also implement quarterly monitoring and review meetings, and permanent community meetings and dialogue forums for better accountability. The monitoring visit and meetings with community members helps to interact with direct project beneficiaries and have opportunities to share life changing stories.


These quarterly dialogue forums, where communities, Habitat and local authorities participate, are key to reflect upon what has been achieved and potential future actions. These spaces are largely led by communities. As Habitat said: “communities are the ones who share their impact stories, because these are not Habitat’s impact stories, but community impact stories”. These exercises have contributed to empower women who have gained confidence to speak up within these types of spaces which are traditionally male dominated, and are able to raise their particular concerns and needs. These impact stories have also contributed to the organisation’s fundraising efforts.


Other CoP members’ experiences with city-wide approaches


We know that other CoP members also have experience working with these types of approaches and we would love to hear more about them. If you would like to share your thoughts, please leave us a comment in response to this blog.


The CoP Team

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