When it comes to addressing homelessness and the issues surrounding it, partnerships and joint work between organisations is absolutely vital.
This is because no one comes off the streets into accommodation through the work of just one agency. Successful progress is almost always a team effort involving a host of different agencies. It is their combined work which makes the difference.
The barriers to joint work
In order to improve relationships between agencies, we need to name some of barriers which often exist. In my experience these factors are common:
Contrasting cultures. Often ‘professional’ agencies and the faith/community-based groups use language that can be alien to the other. They use different acronyms, different forms of bureaucracy and a different emphasis in how they deal with people. Negative judgements easily form around differences.
Promotion and pride. Part of the reality of fundraising is promoting your organisation and the unique role it plays. Social media has turbo-charged these tendencies. Often conflicts are caused by insinuations by a group that ‘our service is the best’ or accusations that ‘we are the only ones really helping’ or even ‘others don’t care’.
Personalities and ego: the people who set up charities and community projects are often charismatic and single-minded in their mission. They often have the ability to inspire and excite others. The task of working on joint protocols and arrangements with other agencies involves different skills (often held by senior managers of large organisations) but these aspects can be viewed as mundane and bureaucratic.
Prejudice and assumptions: when a lack of trust exists between agencies, all kinds of prejudicial assumptions are often made about other people’s motivations. Suspicions of hidden agendas and conspiracies flourish. Often these can be addressed when people meet and talk and realise that ‘the other’ person or group actually have very similar aims to themselves.
Minding the gap
It is vital that these gaps are bridged.
We need to challenge the ‘lone super-hero’ narratives which are popular on social media but are inaccurate and unhelpful.
We need people on both sides who can appreciate the distinct strengths of the other and help build connectedness and collaboration. Conflict and competitiveness sucks energy and life away from the core task of actually helping people.
Humility is not just a personal quality. We need a corporate version to make partnerships work. All agencies need organisational humility because each only brings a piece of the overall jigsaw.
These are my key reasons why we should acknowledge the strengths that other agencies bring:
1. Others can do things that you can’t
Local community and faith groups have unique strengths, but they cannot do the same things that professional agencies and Local Authorities can.
Professional agencies have expertise, resources and (critically) access to longer-term accommodation. Alongside this, grassroots and faith groups can offer a sense of community which is distinctive. They should make the most of this strength: to welcome people into a community which can help them beat isolation and loneliness and undertake steps of recovery and personal growth.
This can be done to complement what the professional agencies do and not compete with it.
2. Joint work helps avoid collusion
When agencies work together is a key way to avoid the sense of collusion which can so easily occur between a person in need and individual agencies. We need to avoid situations where different stories are told to different groups and agencies are ‘played off’ against each other.
By working together, agencies can ensure a blend of grace and truth represented on the different sides of this chart:
Community and faith groups often have an emphasis on the grace and kindness side of this tension. The effectiveness of this is enhanced when connected to the truth and challenge that professional agencies bring. For work to be transformative, we need both sides of this tension.
3. Joint work makes support holistic
The bricks and mortar of a house are obviously a key resource that people need.
But homes are more than that: they are also places of relationships and identity.
This means that overcoming homelessness involves far more than just giving out resources. It requires a holistic approach.
It involves helping people build positive relationships of trust and avoiding loneliness and isolation. And it also involves helping people establish a more positive identity, building an inner sense of purpose, meaning and hope.
Those agencies with the resources need to work well with those who can help people build strong positive relationships and re-build a sense of self-identity.
Keeping the right focus
There is no town or city where one agency can do what is needed by themselves to address the complex challenge of homelessness. We need to break down barriers and build stronger bridges across the gaps that exist between agencies
Organisational humility helps us to see the strengths in what others offer. Most vitally of all, it helps ensure we keep the people we are trying to help right at the centre of what we do.
This post is taken from a longer article on Homelessness, faith and the future