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Evaluation of Homelessness Prevention Innovation Fund Projects

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The Homelessness Prevention Innovation Fund ( HPIF) was announced as part of the Statement on the Abolition of Priority Need to the Scottish Parliament on December 21, 2005 1. The fund allocated a total of £230,000 to eight specific new projects not already funded within the existing preventative measures being undertaken as part of local authorities' homelessness strategies. Its aim was to stimulate innovation in homelessness prevention work. It was anticipated that the eight HPIF projects would pilot new approaches that would expand the range of activities usually undertaken under the umbrella of homelessness prevention. All of the pilots are precautionary projects although there is considerable variation in terms of the imminence of the risk of homelessness; some projects are more concerned with resilience building for the long term, whilst others are working with those immediately vulnerable to an incident of homelessness.

Homelessness Prevention Innovation Fund Projects

East Dunbartonshire multi-agency training project

Web-based diagnostic tools for statutory and voluntary sector front line staff.

East Lothian - Domestic Abuse resource pack

Production of an information pack for women experiencing domestic abuse.

East Lothian - CAB rent arrears project

Direct access to the information held within East Lothian Council's revenue systems for staff within two CABs.

Edinburgh Safe as Houses

A sanctuary scheme for women experiencing domestic violence.

Falkirk Anger Management

Conflict resolution courses for homeless people or those at risk of losing their accommodation.

Glasgow Housing and Employment Service

Work opportunities and housing for formerly looked after young people.

Tayside accommodation and skills project

Training in skills to access and maintain accommodation for people with a history of offending and who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

WISH Project - Women in Sport and Health

Provision of a range of sports and other activities for women who are at risk of homelessness in order to build their confidence, self-esteem, health and wellbeing and social networks.

The HPIF projects were expected to conduct an evaluation and to take part in research to draw together lessons from across all the projects to maximise opportunities for learning and to inform the development of homelessness prevention activities across local authoritiesin Scotland.

About the Research

The aim of this research was to draw together lessons from across the eight HPIF projects to maximise opportunities for learning and to inform the development of homelessness prevention activities across local authoritiesin Scotland. The project provided bespoke monitoring and evaluation to the HPIF projects and brought them together to provide national level learning about homelessness prevention, local evidence of effectiveness and lessons about effective evaluation practice.

The research commenced in April 2007. Support provided to projects was varied but included; help to identify, map and measure hard and soft outcomes; graphic facilitation of outcome maps; devising suitable monitoring frameworks and outcome indicators; support to assist projects to analyse and interpret their monitoring data; help in devising appropriative data collection systems; advice or facilitation of methods to promote dialogue and engagement in evaluation of project staff, volunteers and service users and external partners; facilitation of on-going, formative analysis and review of data for learning and writing evaluation reports. An Exchange Events to bring all eight projects together was held in October 2007. Based on the learning from this event, Interim Good Practice Guidance was issued in January 2008. This has been now been revised and is included in Annex 1.

The national context

The abolition of the priority need distinction from 2012 will broaden local authority responsibilities towards homeless households and preventative work is becoming increasingly important as local authorities work towards this milestone.

There have also been important recent changes in the wider national context in which preventative activities are being undertaken. In particular, there has been a growing national emphasis on developing and delivering public services that focus clearly on achieving clear outcomes. At a local authority level, Single Outcome Agreements ( SOAs) have set out the outcomes, indicators and targets that are being worked towards in each council area. As with other services and activities, homelessness prevention work will increasingly need to build an evidence base which can demonstrate impact, to a broad range of Community Planning Partners. This will be particularly important given the removal of the ring-fencing around both the Homelessness Task Force funding for tackling and preventing homelessness and Supporting People funding. .

Key findings

There are valuable lessons to be drawn about homelessness prevention from the experience of the eight HPIF projects. There is also a strong message that the use of evaluation evidence to design appropriate interventions, and the generation of evaluation evidence from the implementation of interventions, needs to be given greater priority by senior managers and staff concerned with homelessness strategy and implementation. In summary, the main key findings are as follows:

What is effective homelessness prevention?

  • The prevention of homelessness does not happen in isolation from other issues. An exclusive focus on homelessness may not yield the most efficient results; rather a holistic or systemic approach is needed.
  • Prevention is both a process and an event; working over time with individuals and communities to enhance their resilience or protective factors and responding to the impending crisis of the loss or lack of a home. The most effective interventions may not be directly primarily at their housing circumstances.
  • Homelessness prevention is broader than avoiding homelessness presentations; indeed presentations may increase as a result of some interventions.
  • At the planning stage, mapping links between proposed preventative activities and intended outcomes should be an obligation of project design for funding proposals. This can support the development of realistic and deliverable objectives for a project. Funders need to ensure that they structure bidding or proposal processes to ensure there is sufficient time to develop robust proposals whilst ensuring that abortive effort on the part of prospective bidders is minimised.
  • There is a need to design prevention interventions clearly from the outset so that they address the needs and preferences of communities, rather than what professionals want to provide or think will attract funding. Professional judgements do have role to play, but as a part of a blend of evidence of need and analysis of existing evaluation evidence, user views and local knowledge. Better programme planning and project design is crucial to devise the most appropriate outcome focused interventions.
  • More efficient ways of working and better communication and relationships between statutory and voluntary sector agencies are important contributions to prevention efforts, as well as interventions targeted directly at those at risk of homelessness.
  • Effective preventative interventions are both based on and can contribute to strong partnership arrangements between statutory and voluntary sectors. Barriers to effective joint working include attitudes towards other agencies and concerns about data protection, confidentiality and audit. It is possible to overcome attitudinal barriers, build respect and trust and establish sound professional relationships and joint working practices.
  • Knowledge of rights and options amongst those at risk of homelessness is a protective factor and may contribute to less chaotic, crisis-driven responses to housing crises, if not necessarily to fewer statutory homeless presentations. For example, the provision of a clear option to remain within the existing home in situations where there is domestic violence can break the link between domestic violence and homelessness.
  • A crisis-focused intervention is likely to be easier to target at those most at risk, but on its own, is more limited in its reach and potential. Competency or motivationally-based referral criteria may not be appropriate in a crisis-response intervention but may be necessary in more precautionary interventions. To be most effective, mentoring support may also need to be provided. Some interventions may need to be based on more loosely structured eligibility criteria that overlap with broader community development outcomes.
  • Some of the most effective interventions have been those that have attempted to provide as 'normal' an experience as possible for the at risk group. There are a number of ways of working demonstrated here that normalise and de-stigmatise services and provide a flexible and responsive client-orientated approach.

Lessons for evaluation practice

  • Funders and commissioners need to send clear messages about expectations in relation to monitoring and evaluation of both pilot and established programmes at the earliest stages.
  • Traditional monitoring and evaluation practice does not serve the needs of such complex, multi-faceted and multi-agency interventions. Resistance to evaluation is pervasive. However, evaluation need not be viewed as a threat if it is approached as a built-in way of getting feedback, improving practice and ultimately of achieving the best outcomes for service users.
  • It may be impossible to prove that any specific intervention has been responsible for preventing homelessness and definitive attribution of outcomes to specific interventions is probably an unattainable goal. Process improvement rather than proof should be the focus.
  • Informal review or reflective practice is often seen as being outwith the formal monitoring and evaluation process. It is not usually systematic or fully recorded and is often only undertaken in response to problems or challenges. Yet, such practices can be a valid and valuable part of a more formative evaluation process. This research has produced guidance to encourage such formative approaches; legitimate, on-going, yet light touch evaluation processes that only collect data that is meaningful and which is useful for action.

Conclusions

This research has highlighted some examples of promising practice and provided useful insights about homelessness prevention and evaluation practice. The research identifies two practical tools to assist practitioners:

  • Chapter Six contains a series of questions which focus on the threat or crisis which may help service planners in thinking about homelessness prevention as a process and in devising a range of appropriate service responses.
  • Annex 1 contains good practice guidance to support the development of an outcome focused approach to project and programme monitoring and evaluation linked to local and national outcomes as part of Single Outcome Agreements.

However, the findings of this research are limited by both the scope of the original programme and they way that some of the projects have been implemented and evaluated. Evaluation was often perceived more as an audit process, than an opportunity for learning and change. Whilst the original research brief encouraged action research approaches, this had not been integral to the original HPIF project design and expectations. As a result, this undermined the potential for such an approach, alongside existing ideas about valid or legitimate evaluation practice and the organisational and cultural constraints under which projects were operating. This is itself an illustration of an important lesson about the need to build in monitoring and evaluation practice from the very start. Many of the apparent lessons about evaluation practice are actually lessons of programme design which should be a high-level concern amongst managers responsible for homelessness strategy and service delivery. A move towards a prevention-oriented service requires a shift in organisational culture and ways of working. The lessons identified here endorse that need to change wider practices and behaviours across a range of services.