Blog: New approaches to homelessness

Published: 28 Jun 2018

Author: John Cassap
Blog: New approaches to homelessness

At our Award Ceremony in June 2018, John Cassap received the Viscount De L'Isle award, which is given to a Fellow who has shown real determination to succeed, for the direct benefit of others. Here he talks about homelessness and the journey he has been on since becoming a Fellow.

As I reflect on the biennial Award Ceremony of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, which took place earlier this month, I see it as the latest leg on what has been an incredible journey.

It all started in 2014 on a typically busy Tuesday morning at my organisation, Changing Lives, a national charity providing specialist support to vulnerable people and their families. An email arrived in my inbox from Matty Bower, a friend and colleague, inviting me to his presentation that lunchtime on something called a ‘Churchill Fellowship’. I was so pushed for time that day that I almost didn’t make it.

I was hugely inspired while listening to his travel experiences and the wealth of learning he shared that day. Afterwards a member of the senior leadership team suggested that I apply for a Fellowship. I immediately started looking into what challenges may be on the horizon, relating to the service my team provides to individuals experiencing homelessness and its accompanying complexities.

Homelessness is a huge and very complex issue - and it’s on the increase. I wanted to find fresh approaches and so I looked to the USA, specifically New Orleans. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the city had been faced with massive numbers of people forced on to the streets.

They had also celebrated a monumental success in housing every homeless veteran. This was in line with the Mayor’s Challenge, where a number of states had formulated a plan and challenged each other to see it through to completion. The goal was to identify all ex-servicemen and women amongst the homeless population and provide specific tailored support that could help them address the issues that had ended in them living on the streets.

My experience in New Orleans, as well as my time spent with homeless services in New York City on the second leg of my Fellowship travels, gave me a much greater understanding of the need for calibration, communication and cooperation between services and across neighbouring areas.

My learning has assisted in Changing Lives securing funding for two new projects: one that will support veterans with multiple and complex needs and another that will offer ‘Housing First’ on a cross-borough basis for the first time in the UK, giving clients a greater choice about where they live. ‘Housing First’ addresses homelessness through the immediate provision of permanent housing, with support for other issues subsequently offered on an ongoing basis.

It was an honour to be presented with my medallion at the Award Ceremony. The day was made extra special for me as I received the Viscount De L’Isle award, which is given to a Fellow who has shown real determination to succeed. After experiencing some personal difficulties while overseas I had returned home mid-trip. Recommencing my travels and completing my report represented a huge personal milestone, one I am extremely proud of.

There’s also a nice symmetry in my receiving this award: Viscount De L’Isle, a soldier himself, was tasked with helping veterans rebuild their lives after their jobs had been cut, and it’s easy to see his spirit continuing in the support for homeless veterans I observed in New Orleans.

All this was far more than I could ever have hoped for, as I rushed to be on time for Matty’s presentation that Tuesday morning three years ago and became inspired by his life-changing experience.

If you have an interest in homelessness and want to make a positive difference, please read my report. I hope you enjoy it and maybe you too will be inspired to embark on this magnificent journey.

John is pictured above, right, at the award ceremony with guest of honour Nick Danziger. Picture ©Clive Totman 2018

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Read John’s report

Read more about the Award Ceremony