See yourself as a partner - Guide to Community Partnership Development: Addressing homelessness through community partnerships

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Homelessness is a complex social issue. It is multifaceted, takes many forms and affects different populations in various ways. Getting the various sectors involved (health services, social workers, corrections, housing providers, etc.) and working in partnership with a wide range of organizations has demonstrated great success in tackling the issue. In fact, some communities are closer than ever to alleviating chronic homelessness and others are well on their way. Bringing together experts and service providersfrom across the homelessness service spectrum is often one of the most important first steps in helping a community to begin to systematically address homelessness.

But what is a partnership? Why do we need to partner to address homelessness? How are successful partnership achieved? In the context of Housing FirstFootnote 1, for example, one organization cannot be expected to provide all the services, nor should it. Sectors and agencies with various and complementary expertise come together in order to rapidly move people who are homeless from the street or emergency shelters into permanent housing with supports that differ according to client needs and objectives. The community comes together to map out what services already exist and who can provide what, and to identify gaps in the suite of services needed to keep clients successfully housed. By working in partnership, they are in a better position to provide a one-stop-shop approach for clients to access and navigate the services they need to remain successfully housed. The size and shape of the partnerships or the suite of services available will vary in each community.

Purposes of partnerships

Regardless of whether your organization is already working closely with community partners to address your clients' needs, to develop an annual Community Plan, to implement a Housing First program, or that you simply do not know how or when to begin contacting organizations that might help you meet your goals, this toolkit is designed to help you formalize partnerships. It is based on the premise that you are an expert in the field of homelessness, that you know your clients and your community, that a number of resources are available to you and that you are dedicated to your mission. The following are some examples of different types of partnerships.


  • Implement a coordinated community wide system of care or Housing First Approach.
  • Do a better job and make the most of the available resources.
  • Avoid duplication of services and efforts.
  • Be creative and discover the services that no one provides.
  • Create and maintain coalitions.
  • Widen the net of available housing and support needs of clients.
  • Share a vision.
  • Better serve clients from various population groups.
  • Contribute to the community building process.
  • Develop or update a community plan.
  • Take part in a national conversation.
  • Submit joint funding applications.

What makes partnerships a success?

  • Understanding what worked well and what did not work so well in a previous partnership.
  • Knowing your organization’s strengths.
  • Knowing how to communicate and being able to see how to complement products and services offered (service line).
  • Attending various meetings and events, making yourself known, even if your role is unclear.
  • Ensuring the best sectorial representation when organizing meetings and events.
  • Being realistic about what the organization can really accomplish.
  • Abandoning turf wars to complete the service line, instead of competing.

As you see, you are not in this alone! There are many ways other organizations and individuals can help you reach your goals. In order to understand the process that leads to the development of sustainable partnerships between organizations, workers and other civil society, it is important that you to see yourself as a partner. And, with the experience and knowledge that you gain, be it with community partnership building or other, you can certainly help guide others in their process.

So, how does this toolkit work? It is organized in three sections. The first part of the toolkit captures winning conditions and attitudes for establishing a successful community partnership.

In the second part, Community Partnership development has been dissected into five phases, all the way from planning to successfully terminating a partnership as needed. For each phase, this section proposes components, case studies, words of wisdom and tools and check lists.

Types of partnerships

Helping people to access and maintain housing means relying on a wide range of partners from different sectors and for different purposes.

Partnerships with complementary community groups
Share know-how, avoid duplication, combine funding, enhance or leverage resources, help find volunteers, supplement the services, provide clients with recreation, etc.
Partnerships with property managers and landlords
Provide continual access to decent housing for clients, ensure a more empathetic approach to client’s needs, ensure follow-up and supports for clients, eviction prevention and successful rehousing, job skills development and employment opportunities for clients.
Partnerships with paramedical and emergency services
Ensure a better system of communication, discharge planning and community integration, share information about clients, connect with case managers and proper supports.
Partnerships with various private supply businesses
Access in-kind donations, access to pet food and supplies, clothing, and/or furniture and private donations.
Partnerships with correctional and justice services
Ensure appropriate discharge planning and help clients reintegrate into society, connect with case managers and proper supports and services, eliminate the revolving door (from street to jail and back).
Partnerships with public and non-profit mental health organizations
Help clients with their respective issues, easy referrals, insight, consultation, provide ‘walk-in’ services to clients in the building (on location), accompany clients to medical visits.
Partnerships with the municipality
Ensure proper urban planning and secure public transportation, connect with social programs, get support around by-laws, address park issues, help clients access recreational and sports activities, create service areas.
Partnerships with various private service businesses
Access repair, moving or transportation services, dental and optometrist services, veterinarian services, hair dressing services, employment enhancement or job skills development, community development advocacy (being part of a business promoting work the partnership is trying to do)
Partnerships with neighborhood or cultural associations
Welcome newcomers, support community integration, provide translation or interpretation services, ensure cultural competent approaches, reduce ‘Nimbyism’ or resistance in the community.

The case studies, inspired by real cases, were included to illustrate what was done in concrete situations. When applicable, tools, such as telephone call or email scripts and templates are included so you do not need to reinvent the wheel. Use or adapt them as needed.

Words of wisdom are composed of questions to ask yourself, considerations, reminders, tips, and best practices collected from various sources, including Housing First and community partnership experts, as well as Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS) community representatives, to assist you in your efforts to expand or strengthen your partnerships.

The tools and checklists, incorporated at the end of each phase, are intended to help ensure that you do not overlook any important steps when developing your partnerships. The need to address each item depends on how far you have progressed in developing partnerships for your organization. Note that it is important to honestly question yourself during the identified phases in order to have an accurate picture of your organization’s situation.

The first and second phases of partnership development are undoubtedly the longest and the most difficult to carry out in conjunction with your daily work. However, they are well worth the effort if they result in long-term cooperation and complementary services.

Finally, the third part provides you with an annotated bibliography of additional resources that you may find helpful. Depending on where you are in your partnership development process, or what phase of the process you are struggling with, you may want to skip directly to the section(s) that most meets your needs.

Throughout this guide, you will be asked to examine your organization, its practices and habits, reflect on your negotiation skills and be receptive to change. All this may be a little unsettling, but it is important to understand that some steps are essential in order to reach an agreement with a partner and meet your goals. In the end, your clients are the ones who will benefit from your collective effort.

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