Working towards zero homelessness: Hutt St Centre’s practical approach to implementing innovation


This month we talk to Ian Cox, CEO of Adelaide’s Hutt Street Centre, about their social impact bond and the Aspire Program, zero homelessness, and Hutt St’s approach to implementing innovation. Hutt Street Centre provides meals, social work and support services to people facing homelessness.


What does innovation mean to you?

Innovation is about survival for us. We innovate to provide quality services to our client group. We don’t even like the term client group, we prefer to call them our friends, the homeless population, the people who walk through our doors.

There’s the traditional way of delivering services in the homelessness sector, and that’s how we were founded. It all started in 1954, with a men’s only service providing lunch and a jar of tea from the daughters of charity. Over the years the meals centre expanded to the day centre, which is the access point. We’ve evolved over the years. Our funding is now a 50/50 split of government funding and other funding sources. We love the 50/50 split, it causes some sleepless nights but it also forces us to think of new ways of doing things.

How do you evaluate which ideas to take forward?

Being on the real frontline means you can try things. Sometimes we’re responding to needs. Sometimes it’s a gut feel. You can’t sit still – you have to keep thinking about the future. Our ultimate goal is to do ourselves out of a job. We talk about that a lot as a staff group. We talk about that a lot at board level.

Boards and organisations sometimes get locked into growth for growth’s sake. Are we really thinking about growth for our friends’ sake? If Hutt Street continues to grow is that a great thing for our friends on the street? We have to be an outcome focussed organisation.

Focussing on outcomes

We love seeing our friends get into accommodation. We love seeing education and employment outcomes. February 2015 was the best working month in my entire life. We had 30 of our friends who found work through the Fringe Festival and Clipsal (the Adelaide 500 motor race). We had been working towards our pathways program for a number of years, because were continuing to see too many of our friends struggling to be able to read and write properly, which is appalling that as a society we’ve allowed people to slip through the cracks. We started a literacy program, but our friends didn’t really want to do a literacy program, they wanted to find work, so we changed the focus. We had 23 employment outcomes in our first year, 75 the next year, 155 employment outcomes last year. Not all full time work, but it’s getting people back into the workforce. That program became our innovative response, as a response to need. We love it, it’s changed the way we view things at Hutt Street. The success of it in the early days lead us to think about the social impact bond and Aspire Program because we wanted to combine employment, education and training pathways with our case management models.

Aspire Program

In 2017 Hutt St launched the Aspire Program, funded by South Australia’s first social impact bond. The program will see Hutt Street work with up to 600 people to permanently end their homelessness through long term intensive case management, housing and employment pathways.

In the homelessness sector you’re very much steered down one path of getting people off the streets, out of boarding houses and into secure housing, but that’s not always what our friends want. Sometimes they just want to work, and not have housing. That’s remarkable to the rest of the community because they don’t get that. For us, we wanted to bring it all together. We want to transform the way we do business in the homelessness sector, which focuses on housing outcomes and housing supply. We’re all struggling with housing supply and affordability, Our Aspire program is partnership driven, we’re working with Community Housing and Common Ground. It’s been a great process for us, it has changed a lot of our thinking and our processes.

How to implement innovation

We start from the basic principle of involving our staff in designing everything we do. We brought everyone in to help design what Aspire would look like. They weren’t all team leaders – we worked with our frontline staff. We then tested the design with our leaders. We’d like to rebuild the centre in the next few years and we’re going through a similar design process with our staff for the rebuild.

I look to the big organisations and what they’re doing, but I also see that being a smaller organisation gives us opportunities because we can change a little bit quicker. We can adapt and innovate on the run, and we’ve done that with a number of our programs. Having the 50/50 split of government and non-government funding means that we have to keep innovating , because things might fall over, fundraising might not come off, so we’re always looking for new opportunities.

Keeping up to speed with opportunities and trends

I’m a prolific reader. There wouldn’t be a day goes by where I’m not reading a new article. I’ve also done study tours to look at what different cities are doing, cities like Los Angeles, Dallas and Dublin. You have to know what’s going on. We keep in touch with our colleagues interstate and we keep up with what people are doing overseas. We’re connected with the Global Institute of Homelessness.

The Zero Project – Ending street homelessness in Adelaide

The Zero Project was launched in August this year. Hutt St is one of a number of organisations aiming to end functional homelessness in Adelaide. The Zero Project is modelled on Built for Zero which has seen an end to chronic homelessness in three US cities and seen more than 75,000 people housed since 2015.

When you go over to Melbourne and Sydney, the numbers are out of control. Against all odds Adelaide is one of the only cities in Australia that has reduced rough sleeping. That’s pretty special. We’re now working with Anglicare and Don Dunstan Foundation, looking at ending street homelessness.  The fact that Adelaide could be the second vanguard city to see if we can end street homeless is fantastic. The reason why we like that is that over 50% of rough sleepers come through Hutt Street. If you can get things right from the street, from that bottom end, you can change the system. We’ve brought The Zero Project to Adelaide and we’ve been able to convince the powers that be that we should be one of those vanguard cities, and hopefully we will see less people on the streets.

Lessons from Hutt St

There are some great lessons from Hutt St’s approach to innovation.

  • Focussing on outcomes
    Hutt St focusses on what clients actually want, focussing on client outcomes and adapting programs in response to client feedback.
  • What do clients want?
    Ian and the team innovate based on listening to their clients and adapting programs to their needs. It might sound obvious but too many organisations design programs based on assumptions and fail to adapt inflight programs in response to client feedback.
  • Managing resources
    Ian’s team finds the balance between resourcing existing programs and implementing new projects.
  • Finding what works
    Ian and the team are taking on lessons from innovators around the world, based on proven programs like Built for Zero, rather than reinventing the wheel.
  • Working as a team
    Innovation is a team sport, and Hutt St gets the whole team involved in designing innovation, and works in partnership with other organisations across the sector to maximise results.

Jane Arnott
General Manager, Consulting and Business Services
Phone: 1300 284 364

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