My name is Jenny Travassos and I was the Head of Rough Sleeping for Westminster City Council for 6 and a half years and a proud member of the Westminster Homelessness Partnership (WHP). When the notion of the WHP first came to my attention, I genuinely thought that it was just another ‘thing’ to do and boy, was I wrong!
For me, the WHP has come to mean collaboration in its truest form and more importantly, breaking down barriers to honestly communicating positions and acknowledging the differences and strengths between all of us. For me, the group became my touch point to check ideas and make sure what we wanted to do was actually achievable, as well a rare opportunity for a giggle in the midst of chaos.
Prior to late 2019, we often operated in a manner where the council commissioned services and developed policy where we often would have lengthy discussions on how to reduce duplication and increase joint working amongst our delivery partners, but given we had a big mix of commissioned, non-commissioned services, health partners AND the largest number of rough sleepers in the country… it felt like we were pushing uphill. The market type conditions that procurement and commissioning created almost felt like a barrier at times to genuine partnership and communication but when working in local government, procurement is necessary and the framework for delivery.
We knew we couldn’t continue in the same way and we decided to move forward because, frankly, we had to try something different! At this time the Westminster Homeless Action Together Group – WHAT – was being refreshed to become WHP and wanted to boost its strategic and leadership work. WCC, including me, decided to really get on board, deepen our involvement and commitment and contribution to the partnership.
Since WHP started this new phase of the partnership journey, we have all had to change due to the pandemic. As we have come to know one another as people, better understand all of the partners’ super powers in delivery and planning, the communication and sharing of information has increased, as has collaboration at an operational level.
The Core Group of senior managers met every week during the pandemic and we shared policies, resources, intelligence, operational plans and future plans – the important ingredient of this core group is confidentiality and it never wavered. Everyone in the group is equal in their importance and voice so there is no posturing or competition, it is just about getting the best results possible for the thousands of rough sleepers seen each year.
For me personally, I have developed relationships that I value and have come to depend on and professionally, I have well and truly signed up to the fact that true collaboration is the only way to navigate the times we find ourselves in.
Westminster’s response to rough sleeping is a something that needs to be agile and flexible; we cannot stand back and say a model is in place because it is consistently changing, and the WHP enables a dynamic response. It also allows for policy development as a group as we all know how to shout loudly – but our voices together are even stronger. Because of the transparency and willingness to hear other views and ideas, it is a framework to continue to build upon.
Overall… I was a cynic but I am now a true believer!