Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Simon Community crisis

May 18 2009
The Community is limiting its London services because problems - including over-spending - have eroded its capital Voluntary organisation Simon Community, in London, is having to limit its services as a result of growing financial issues, it has emerged. Following rumours, received over several months from readers of The Pavement, it appears there is truth in concerns that this unique charity has some hard decisions to make. The charity, in which ex-rough sleepers and housed volunteers live and work together, has been beset by problems - including over-spending - which have seen its capital erode. Timothy Nicholls, director of Simon Community, said: "When I inherited the organisation 18 months ago, it had already expanded beyond its financial means. We had to shut down Simon House last year; the property took ¬¨¬£64,000 in running costs a year - we couldn't cover it." This was the first in a series of cost-cutting measures. The organisation has reduced the number of its paid staff to two - Mr Nicholls and a part-time administrator. Mr Nicholls said inadequate funding was the principal reason for the breakdown: "The Simon Community is a private charity. It does not take government funding, so cash flow is a challenge. We will not take handouts from the government because we want to continue speaking out on issues that affect homeless people today." Poor management of funds has also played a significant part in Simon Community's breakdown. Despite all the belt-tightening, the debts are building. "Decisions were always undertaken for the noblest of reasons," said Mr Nicholls, "but they weren't made in a strategic manner. It is a very difficult time." The problem was exacerbated when Sarah Cahill, their fundraiser, left the charity earlier this year. The trustees have yet to appoint a replacement; however, they are scheduled to meet on 29th September to discuss the future of the charity. What does this mean for current residents? Mr Nicholls advised readers not to panic. "The accommodation for current residents is guaranteed, no matter what," he said. "We currently have five volunteers and four residents housed in our Kentish Town property, but we might not necessarily take on any new residents." The charity provides transition housing for periods of up to 18 months for rough sleepers making the move towards permanent accommodation, as well as their excellent street cafes. Alongside the low-support housing, the Simon Community runs regular outreach projects which include street work, where volunteers spend time with the homeless on the streets; they also do tea runs two mornings a week and a soup and sandwich run two evenings a week. Their street caf?î??? runs on Mondays and Wednesdays at the St Mary-le-Strand church, and on Saturday at St Giles, with free tea, coffee, biscuits and newspapers. It is these programs which may in danger. "Our outreach projects may be impacted by the trustees' decision, but whatever the outcome, we will continue to support rough sleepers the best we can," said Mr Nicholls. All decisions, including financial strategy, are made through a series of meetings with the whole management team, which can be a lengthy process. The proposed meeting at the end of the month marks only the beginning of negotiations - plans will not be set in motion until mid-October. "The trustees are going to have to make a decision about the long-term viability of the organisation," said Mr Nicholls. "They need to decide whether it can continue running with one full-time member of staff, or whether we should seek a merger with another organisation in this sector, or perhaps try something imaginative, like setting up a charitable trust, selling off property and using the funds to keep going." A key rumour that was repeated to this magazine was the fact that a merger with another charity had been mooted, and it seems that it is being considered. The management is seeking advice from the Charity Commission on how to resolve funding issues, but a merger with another homelessness charity seems the ideal solution. "We have the same problematic central costs as any charity. If we could have these taken on by another organisation, we could concentrate on our outreach projects," said Mr Nicholls. We strive to provide impartial news within our pages, but once the story's written, I think it's acceptable to say, in this case, "good luck to them." The Pavement has had its share of financial worries in the past, necessary, in the same way, to maintain its independence. But when things were hardest for us, The Simon Community always offered practical help in delivering our journal. We very much hope they can weather this storm. Editor