Sharing solutions to ending homelessness across the Atlantic

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We know that collaboration with our partners in ending homelessness yields impressive results. During the past five years, we have ended homelessness among Veterans and the annual number of people experiencing homelessness dropped 34%, from 14,287 in 2013 to 9,478 in 2017. The 2018 annual Point-in-Time Count census of homelessness showed that the number of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness (long-term homelessness and living with a severe disability) decreased 69% since 2014. These are significant strides that have saved countless lives and thousands in tax payer dollars, and are proof that collaboration among service providers coupled with a robust continuum of services are key solutions in the fight against homelessness.


We were thrilled when the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), an umbrella organization that advocates for and coordinates solutions to end homelessness across the nation, asked us to host a participant in the Transatlantic Practice Exchange. A partnership with Homeless Link in the UK and NAEH, and funded by the Oak Foundation, this project “aims to develop future leaders in the homelessness sector and establish transatlantic good practice connections.” Each year, ten candidates are chosen, five from the UK and five from the US, to shadow organizations working in their field of interest across the Atlantic.


Ed Addison was matched with Columbus House’s Outreach and Engagement team. Ed is a Case Coordinator for St. Mungo’s Street Impact London where his team works with 175 homeless individuals experiencing “repeat or long episodes of homelessness all presenting with a complexity of need” – similar to the designation of “chronically homeless” in the US. Ed is responsible for 35 clients and has been an outreach worker for four years. Ed’s requested focus area on his application for the exchange program was “multidisciplinary outreach teams – accessing mental health services, substance misuse services, and physical health services.” Ed was matched with Columbus House’s New Haven Outreach team because of the diversity of services that are offered to those experiencing homelessness in our community. 


Ed spent two very full weeks with our staff, engaging people living on the street and trying to get them connected to our services and housing. He also visited with many of our partners, including Liberty Community Services, Marrakech, CT Mental Health Center, Cornell Scott Hill Health Center (CSHHC), Musical Intervention, and more, to learn how our community works together to solve homelessness. He witnessed CT Mental Health Center’s street psychiatry team in action, and medical outreach being practiced on the New Haven Green and in soup kitchens with nurses from CSHHC.

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We spoke to Ed and our Senior Manager of Outreach and Engagement, Lisbette De La Cruz, about the experience:

Ed, how are homeless trends faring abroad?

While New Haven and Connecticut are seeing a downward trend in homelessness, Ed says “in London and the UK, sadly our homeless community is rising and has doubled in the last seven years.” He believes “The most significant issue which I think we experience in London is a lack of access to affordable social housing and that housing stock has not been replenished in the last 30 years.” Ed says that while he understands there is quite a wait for housing vouchers in the US, the quality of housing that is achievable once that voucher is secured is much better than what it is in the UK. He also believes the rights of renters here are also better.

What are you taking away from your experience in New Haven?

Ed listed three key takeaways from his experience with us:

1) Experiencing his job as an outsider.

“I’ve had a really interesting and great experience, particularly meeting other outreach workers that are doing the same job that I’m doing. The complexities – they’re very much mirrored issues – there are obviously different things that are occurring here that are slightly different. But, what this job is about is relationship building with people that are at a low point in their lives, and that’s the most important thing. I have so many colleagues back home that are as committed and empathic as outreach workers here. Sometimes when you are at home you forget that because you are in the midst of it every day doing your job and you don’t take stock of that and of what those people are doing to support people who sleep on the streets, but it’s nice to be an outsider looking in on that and seeing that in practice as well.”


2) Community.

The connection with the people in the street – you know that they feel that the outreach people are part of the community and that’s visible in the way they are responded to. It’s astounding how much politeness there is here.”


3) Homelessness Verification Tool to Target the Most Vulnerable.

Ed is also impressed with the tools that our Outreach staff use to verify a person’s homelessness. Focusing on target groups, such as chronically homeless individuals, has been a key to success in Connecticut. Ed says, “In London you only have to be seen bedded down once on the street to be a verified homeless person, whereas here there are much stricter criteria around who qualifies as being homeless or chronically homeless.”

Why did you get involved in this work?

Before joining St. Mungo’s Street Impact Team in 2014, Ed worked with Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and at a hostel for youth experiencing homelessness for two years. When it became time for Ed to enter the “real world” he knew it had to be “something with social impact – something working with drugs and alcohol.” In 2012, he started volunteering with St. Mungo’s. He went on outreach as a volunteer and thought, “Wow, this is different. This isn’t your average 9-5 in an office all day looking at a computer. The next few years were aimed at getting a job in that and I finally did in 2014 and that’s what I’m still doing today.”

Lisbette, what was your team’s experience during Ed’s visit?

“Being an outreach worker is unique and requires special skills. Ed’s style is very similar to ours in how he approaches those living on the street. He immediately connected with our team and those we serve in the community – as if he was one of our own. It was encouraging for our team to spend time with someone who is doing the same work abroad. Sharing their expertise with Ed helped reinforce their confidence in the great work they do.”


Are there any differences in Ed’s work that we could learn from?

“The number of people experiencing homelessness in London is much greater than ours, in part due to location. St. Mungo’s is able to perform outreach very early in the morning and late at night. Even with much lower numbers in Connecticut, these efforts are admirable and something to be strived for.”


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