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Social sciences

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The Spokes programme is an education, training and employment service provided by Focus Ireland since 2002 to people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The aim of Spokes is to assist people to move on from homelessness by providing an alternative way of learning, through education and employment that is tailored to individuals needs. The number of people Spokes has worked with has consistently increased since the establishment of the programme – with 357 customers accessing the service in 2008 (this represents a 108% growth in the number of service users in just one year, i.e. 2007-2008). Spokes provides support to people with low levels of educational attainment and typically negative experiences of formal education who, because of their chaotic lifestyle and housing issues, find it difficult to access mainstream labour market supports, even those directed at the longterm unemployed. The service recognises that training, education and employment can play a crucial role in tackling homelessness and ending social exclusion, and that for those most marginalised flexible responses which respond to complex needs are required. TSA Consultancy was commissioned by Focus Ireland in 2009 to undertake an evaluation of Spokes, to consider how the programme is meeting its objectives and to assess the effectiveness of its model of service delivery. The evaluation of the Spokes programme found that the service provides a safe and secure environment for people who may be apprehensive about returning to education. The approach is informal and flexible, and succeeds in keeping the engagement of service users at different stages of personal education and training progression, and responding to their particular needs that may arise from homelessness. Spokes provides a range of supports from informal drop-in arrangements to FETAC Level 3 certification. A particular strength of Spokes is its capacity to underpin more formal FETAC course with life-skills and person development courses that break-down social isolation. While the evaluation recognises the strength of the informal development of Holistic Individual Education Plans in Spokes, it recommends greater reliance on written plans to set milestones and review progress. Spokes’ level of one-to-one support and the programme’s flexibility to accommodate service users who have dropped out (due to changes in housing arrangements, health issues, court cases etc.) to re-enter courses are cited as unique elements in its success. Customers reported very positive experiences

and outcomes from the programme, but the evaluation found that there is a need for more effective capturing and tracking of progression beyond the programme to substantiate the positive impacts/outcomes of the service. In order for services like Spokes to provide the most effective progression route out of homelessness into training, education and employment, stronger collaborations with next stage agencies such as FAS or the VEC are required. The success of Spokes has gone beyond its initial target group of young people. The evaluation report recommends a re-focusing on young people, a more effective recording of progression, and an exploration of the role that the social economy can play in providing employment to people who are experiencing homelessness. There is clear evidence from customers and referring organisations consulted in the evaluation that Spokes has had a significant impact on service users’ quality of life. One referral agency stated: The homeless sector is experiencing a reconfiguration of services based on a ‘housing first’ model of service delivery, and this will have implications for training and education provision to those experiencing homelessness. There is an opportunity for Focus Ireland’s new training, education and employment programme PETE (Preparing for Education, Training and Employment) to lead the process of greater collaboration between service providers in the community / voluntary and statutory sectors, as well as local development organisations and the Local Employment Services.

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