The homelessness sector as potential beneficiaries

The homelessness sector as beneficiaries

The immediate value of the PIElink in the homelessness sector lies in its current (and expanding) role as the mouthpiece for a community of practice, linking researchers, practitioners and policy makers in a field where there is currently both growing public concern and growing research interest.

For the moment, with membership free to all who register, and no form of subsidy, there is no actual income stream to support even continuation of the current level of in-put. To be sustainable, the PIElink needs to generate income; and for this, it also needs investment. Yet we do not see the cash-starved homelessness sector as the potential investors or subscribers*.

Instead, we propose to regard the homelessness sector and its various agencies as the potential beneficiaries - financial or otherwise - of an expansionist and entrepreneurial approach to income. How is this possible?

There is, we believe, a potential – though novel and quite un-tested - business model in prospect, which could potentially bring significant income to stakeholders, as shareholders of the company. At least, it should not cost these agencies significant funds to support the work – whether from central funds, or from the subscription income of frontline staff.

Instead, we argue, the PIElink can remain free to all frontline staff, to provider agencies and to users of these services, if subscription income is drawn instead from the education sector, and those establishments – primarily but perhaps not exclusively the universities – that train the professional staff of the future in a knowledge base and a range of skills to equip them for work with people with complex needs.

Universities (for example) currently invest significant funds in their libraries, and in subscriptions to journals, to give up to date information and analysis of developments in their field to both student and staff. The costs of these items is included in the fees students pay, en route to qualification in their field. Similarly the costs of arranging and supervising practice placements – although much of the workload of supervising students on placement is borne by the agency where they are placed.

The costs of an annual subscription to a journal amounts to a few hundred pounds per annum. Including the costs of participating access to the PIElink – and especially to the more interactive discussions, webinars etc would add little to the costs of a university; but could add something of unique relevance and immediacy, a very valuable – and very low cost – supplement to the teaching and learning ‘offer’ of the course.

It is not clear (at this stage) just how many universities or other kinds of college there are that training future professionals to qualification level. But homelessness, and social exclusion, are issues of growing concern across the entire developed world; and a produce which is marketed to all places of learning in the entire English-speaking world has a very large potential market, and a very significant source of income, so far largely un-tapped.

 

There are then two ways in which participating homelessness agencies may be beneficiaries.

  • Assuming that the company does make profit – and there seems to be considerable potential for that – then the shareholders, as shareholders, may take a ‘dividend’, as most shareholders in a purely commercial venture would normally expect to do.
  • Alternatively, as social enterprise with primarily social purpose in mind, the stakeholders might prefer to see all (or most) of the proceeds ploughed back and re-invested into the sector, in various possible ways.

 

Tapping into this market for income is a major departure from anything hitherto undertaken in the homelessness sector, or in mental health and social welfare. It can probably only be realized in partnership with another agency, probably an existing publisher, preferably in the academic publishing field and/or the on-line world.

This will then require a company structure very different in many respects to that envisaged for Plan B. For more on this company structure, and the role of homelessness sector as beneficiaries and in an editorial advisory capacity, look out for “Plan A – company structures” – coming next ( see Long term investment and publishing partnership)

 

Nevertheless, we do not overlook the potential in the homelessness sector for raising investment income.  As social enterprises, they are eligible for various forms of state- or philanthropic funded sources of income for investment, at very favorable rates.  (NB: Such investment often comes with a condition of the investor taking an equity share; and it is partly for this reason that a proportion of the shares is to be held back, and not gifted at the outset.)

This allows these participating agencies to increase their original stake as shareholders, and therefore either the oncome, should they opt to take income, or in the direction of re-invested income, for funds ploughed back into the sector. In the meantime it allows the PIElink project to raise significant investment funds, not simply to continue, but to expand.

Thus Plan A envisages that the sector will be the beneficiaries of an investment and re-engineering strategy which, if successful, will provide income not only for continuation of the existing resource, but for surplus, and re-investment in encouraging creativity.

 

 

  • NB: A funding model based on subscriptions from frontline services is certainly possible – it is the basis of Plan B – but not attractive, as the sector is notoriously underfunded already. Reliance on subscription income would significantly constrain the potential of the project. In other options, the current membership as a market is too niche(and its readership base too under-funded) for advertising to be considered as a source of revenue; and crowd sourcing as an option is probably suitable only for add-on products and events (for a fuller discussion of these options, see The PIEs Promotion Company Business Plan)