30 years in homelessness

Tuesday, 7 July 2015 - 8:00am

Having spent most of his working life in the homelessness sector, Midland Heart’s Deputy Director for Care and Support, Raj Shroff – and one of the opening keynote speakers at Under One Roof this morning – reflects on the changes he has seen over the past three decades.

I can still remember the first time I walked into the Trinity hostel in Birmingham where 120 older gentlemen were sleeping in dormitory style accommodation.

As a naïve 18-year-old this is where my career began: volunteering at a city night shelter in an old gothic style church.

Things were a bit different thirty years ago. Another volunteer and I were often left to supervise these vulnerable individuals overnight, with no support, no regulation, no training – and health and safety had never been heard of!

It was the best part of a decade before we started to see changes in the way the sector understood these people’s needs and how it supported them.

Fast forward to today and I am working for one of the largest housing and care organisations in England. The services that our dedicated teams manage have come a long way from the Trinity Hostel that I volunteered at over 30 years ago.

The Places of Change programme has enabled hostels, like The Snow Hill in Birmingham, to be transformed into individually styled apartments, where private sector residents share the facilities with customers who are receiving support to get back on their feet and live independently.

We are more proactive than we were 30 years ago. Our Rough Sleeper Outreach team works throughout the region to make contact with some of the most entrenched rough sleepers to support them back into accommodation.

But to continue delivering services in a time of austerity and reduced budgets, we will need to find new and innovative ways of working. Forging closer partnerships with other organisations and looking at how to make services viable going forward, is the only way we will be able to ensure that the customer continues to be our main focus.

There will always be a wide range of challenges facing the sector in the coming years – in particular making sure we preserve our social mission, retain the best staff, and not become stifled by process, all against a backdrop of funding cuts and welfare reform.

The effort our teams put in every day blows me away and makes me so proud to be part of this profession. There are no easy answers though, and the future will be tough. We must work differently in order to continue supporting the most vulnerable people in society.

As a sector, this is our biggest challenge.

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Raj Shroff

Deputy Director for Care and Support - Midland Heart

Raj has worked in homelessness for more than 30 years. At Midland Heart he is responsible for Homelessness Services, Rough Sleeping, Social Enterprise and Innovation.