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I think every, every homeless organisation should be working through trauma-informed care.

Recently we worked with Emmaus Oxford to implement “positive approaches” such as psychologically informed environment, trauma-informed care and strengths-based practice, in their service. We sat down with the CEO of Emmaus Oxford, Eddie Blaze, to explore what the process was like and the impact on their service.

The challenge

Emmaus Oxford opened in 2009, they are part of a national and international Federation of Emmaus communities across the world. The model consists of housing and support services with an attached social enterprise, a furniture and second-hand household goods store. The service houses 28 residents, who they call companions, also work within their social enterprise as well as take part in outreach work with people sleeping rough in Oxford. The aim of the work is therapeutic, designed to develop people's self-esteem and self-confidence, as well as giving them something to do, and providing lots of training and development opportunities.

For years, Emmaus Oxford grappled with financial challenges, making it difficult to enact meaningful change. In recent years, the organisation turned a corner and Eddie notes, "It felt like everything was running pretty well, and rather than being very reactive and firefighting all the time, it felt like we now have scope to start looking and thinking, okay, what else can we do?"

Recognising the need for a comprehensive approach, Emmaus Oxford sought to integrate a psychologically informed environment, trauma-informed care and strengths-based approaches into their services. Eddie recalls, "I wanted to introduce trauma-informed care, a strengths-based approach. They are things I knew about for a very, very long time and we'd introduced little bits, but not really as a way of working...It felt like that was the next step for us."

Evidence shows these approaches to deliver significant benefits including improved levels of trust and engagement from service beneficiaries in the available support, improved outcomes and achievement of goals, improved positive move-on from services, improved staff wellbeing, attendance, and retention, and reduction in incidents, complaints, and evictions.

I've met a number of consultants over the years but Jane [the Homeless Link consultant] was brilliant. She was absolutely fantastic.

The approach

The Homeless Link consultancy service reviewed their practice in relation to these three models and identified areas for development to achieve full implementation of positive approaches.

To conduct the review, Homeless Link’s consultant Jane visited the service for introductory meetings with the staff and companions to make sure that everyone understood what was happening. After the introduction, Jane spent a further two days at the service engaging with various stakeholders, including staff, companions, and trustees, to gather insights and develop actionable recommendations through a series of focus groups and surveys. Jane also reviewed Emmaus Oxford’s documents and policies such as signage, referral forms and their evictions policy.

Before embarking on the process, Eddie was anxious about the outcome of having someone external come in to review their work. But saw the benefit immediately of how having someone external involved can bring to light new things:

“Jane was asking questions that we just don't ask people…we ask like quite specific questions, such as “what do you think of this part of this policy” and she was saying things like “what's good about Emmaus”. We never asked those questions, and people were saying things, and I was thinking, “well, you've never said that before”. And it's because they'd never been asked.”

I think everyone can benefit from someone external who knows what they're on about coming into your service.

The result

The consultancy process revealed what Emmaus Oxford from doing well such as creating a psychologically informed environment, due to the work they’ve put in creating a homely atmosphere.

It also showed areas for growth, providing a roadmap for change. As well as highlighting some big areas for change, such as training Emmaus Oxford’s social enterprise staff to provide more support to companions. The review provided some quick solutions to make the service more strengths-based and trauma-informed, such as improving signs across the centre and sharing financial information at meetings with companions to build trust and transparency.

Implementing the recommendations from the consultancy has already yielded positive outcomes. The service is now much more likely to take trauma into account when looking at people’s behaviour, which shifted how evictions are handled. “The way we give out warnings has changed since the review…Now, we are less likely to evict people for things like alcohol use, drug use.”

They have also noticed an impact on their staff team, as relationships between staff and companions have been strengthened and they’re able to look at things in a positive light, as Eddie notes, “Being strengths-based is quite positive way of looking at things, isn't it? Whereas I think sometimes in this sector you end up focusing on the negative stuff. But it's a nice shift to focus on the positive side of it.”

Looking ahead Emmaus Oxford aims to continue integrating trauma-informed and strengths-based approaches even further, including embedding in new initiatives such as their learning and development programme which aims to help companions transition away from the service into new jobs and accommodation. Highlighting the continued impact this work will have on the service and the people they support.

To find out more about how we can support your organisation to embed positive approaches, please get in touch.

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Sophie Price

Consultancy Manager

Sophie coordinates a wide range of tailored support to the sector including research, evaluations and strategies.