Thoughts about SHAN

One of my “homeless” activities is as chair of Southend Homeless Action Network (SHAN). Regarding its past, present and future, readers are advised to check out the SHAN webpage. As for what SHAN seeks to do, I refer readers to its terms of reference (repeated below), agreed soon after it began in 2008:

SHAN does not have a formal membership and is open to any from the voluntary, community, faith and statutory sectors, plus individuals, who have a concern and resolve to address homeless issues in Southend, in particular helping those who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless.

SHAN’s terms of reference are to:

  1. meet from time to time, but a minimum of four times a year, to discuss homeless issues with a view to finding and implementing solutions and do so in a spirit of partnership.
  2. provide a compassionate network, based on trust and understanding, that will support members in the work they do concerning homeless and other vulnerable persons.
  3. understand the issues around homeless people, including how needs are being met or not being met in Southend, and propose, support and help implement practical and enduring solutions, including the identification and promotion of good practice.
  4. understand government (central and local) policies with respect to homeless people and specifically to engage and partner with Southend Borough Council in the implementation of its Homelessness Prevention Strategy and whenever needs are identified or opportunities arise.
  5. share and disseminate information regarding homelessness and issues affecting those who are homeless, within SHAN and to those who are in contact with SHAN members.

The following are my own thoughts and do not necessarily represent the views of all SHAN members:

All these years on, the terms of reference still apply. SHAN is still going strong, meetings (typically every other month) are well attended, dealing with many important matters that concern the homeless, and we are generally successful in inviting the “right” people to come and talk about “issues”. New members are being added all the time (although membership is informal). SHAN extends an invite to anyone with an interest in homelessness to join and contribute to its aims, but requests respect be shown to other members, especially in case of disagreements, and a positive approach (as opposed to a negative or excessively critical one), and be succinct in saying what needs saying, when participating.

SHAN recognizes there are many agencies, pertinently those that operate in Southend, that seeks to help the homeless. It recognizes they do different things and do things differently, yet hopes they may all complement one another. SHAN tries to encourage these agencies, working alongside them, not duplicating activities.

SHAN is not like most voluntary organizations and charities as it does not run its own projects, does not fund raise, owns no assets, imposes minimal restrictions on members and has no formal structures. While some of its members are paid because of their job with partner agencies, the organization is voluntary. Administration is kept to a minimum. SHAN values the support it receives, in particular Southend Christian Fellowship for letting it use its premises for free, and the work that each members does.

SHAN has been instrumental through its regular meetings and conferences, and informal networking, in helping to start projects. It tries to do what is stated on the tin: it is Southend based; its focus is on the Homeless (including sanctuary seekers); its reason for existence is to help instigate and promote Action, and it does so by encouraging interested parties to Network. SHAN’s intention is to continue while the need for it remains but is accountable to its members when it comes to making changes in direction or policy.

As well as not initiating projects, SHAN is not a campaigning organization, although members in the network will have views, sometimes at variance with one another, on the various injustices that appear to be clearly manifest in our society and the policies of government (central and local), statutory and voluntary agencies, that affect homeless people. SHAN will not necessarily endorse or otherwise the policies of various agencies in and outside of its network, and will maintain strict neutrality and independence. It seeks to understand what is going on and work with those who it can to obtain the best possible outcomes for homeless people.

I hope this helps. I regard it a privilege to have been involved with SHAN over many years and, while there is clearly great need still among the homeless, I also believe we have made a difference.

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