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 of the PIElink free to all who register, and no form of subsidy, there has been no actual income stream to support even continuation of the current level of in-put, after the retirement - long postponed - of the founder and editor, Robin Johnson.

This may change, over the course of 2021, with the development of the PIE Abacus, and the income that this may bring in. Robin has committed a minimum of 20%, rising eventually to 40%, of that income to re-investment in the sector; and we anticipate that the PIElink will be subsidised from that source for some time to come. (For details, see HERE)

But to be fully sustainable, the PIElink would need to generate income in its own right; and for this, it needs the investment that, pro tem, the PIE Abacus may start to bring in.  Yet we do not see the cash-starved homelessness sector as the funders, potential investors or subscribers, in the longer term. That PIE Abacus income may well have other uses; and once the social enterprise is in action, there will be other demands on these resources.

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.

In the short term, we anticipate that the development of the PIE Abacus software that supports the self assessment framework, the PIzazz, may bring in sufficient income to allow a small staff team to continue to manage and even extend the current PIElink range of activities. whilst keeping the PIElink and its material free to use to all staff, volunteers etc working in the related fields.

But in the longer run, 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.

Vocational training on 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 university library 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 the option of accessing and participating in 'real world, real time' discussions 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 they number in the hundreds - just in the UK. Meanwhile,  homelessness, and social exclusion more broadly, are issues of growing concern across the entire developed world; and an educational 'product' 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 anything we have seen in the sector so far. 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 should not overlook the potential in the homelessness sector for raising investment income.  As social enterprises, these agencies are eligible for various forms of state- or philanthropic funded sources of income for investment, at very favourable 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 income, 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)