BCAN (Bristol Christian
Helping Christians Respond To Social Needs
Bristol Homeless Forum
BCAN has been operating in Bristol for some years, and undertakes a range of activities. One of these activities has been the establishment of a Homeless Forum.
The BCAN Homeless Forum (‘BHF’) started as an experiment: people were invited to a single meeting, and decided that it would be helpful to continue to learn from each other and explore ways in which we can work with each other more effectively.
Since the initial meeting in September 2001, the BHF has met every two months.
Our primary purpose is to encourage cooperation and collaboration between our member groups in and around Bristol as we work with people who are homeless, people who have been homeless, and people who are at risk of homelessness. In doing so, we aim to campaign with a united voice in support of those who are affected by homelessness and related issues.
We both support and represent our member groups.
We support our member groups in three main ways: through meetings, training and publications,
We also represent our part of the voluntary sector to the Council and statutory bodies, speaking on behalf of our member groups and the clients we serve.
There is a certain ambiguity in the set-up at present. Individuals attend the meetings, and are asked to act as representatives of the groups they come from. The membership, as it currently operates, applies to the individuals, but they are present because of the groups and organisations they belong to.
At present, we do not ask the organisation if it wants to be a member of the BHF: having someone who attends the meetings is sufficient.
We do not seek to impose common standards or guidelines on the member groups: membership is not dependent on agreeing with a given party line. However, where there is a general consensus on an issue, we communicate it even if not all the members are in agreement.
At present, there is no formal membership.
In practice, the membership falls into two groups: the active members who attend the meetings, and the non-participating members who receive the meeting notes and other literature that is made available.
The BHF functions in several ways.
In the meetings, we are a ‘Community of Practice’ serving the active members – please see the document describing this in more detail. We believe it is important that all the groups working with homeless people discover how to work together more effectively.
We also provide services to the whole membership – in practice, to anyone who contacts us and asks for help with something related to our area of work. This often takes the form of distributing information to the wider, non-participating membership, but sometimes it involves other forms of advice and assistance.
We would like to see our influence used to publicise the needs of homeless people in Bristol, and to see better resources made available to help them.
BCAN is a Christian organisation, sponsored by the Bristol and District Evangelical Alliance.
The BCAN Homeless Forum was initially established as a resource for the Christian groups in Bristol working with homeless people. However, all groups working with homeless and ex-homeless people in Bristol are welcome: the only requirement is that members respect the beliefs of the faith groups involved.
We need to ask the current ‘member’ organisations if they want to be members of the BHF. There needs to be a sign-up process, and probably a clearer set of principles and objectives.
We are functioning with, and therefore probably need a two-level membership structure. Would it be appropriate to call these ‘Members’ and ‘Friends’? Is there a more helpful terminology?
If we develop a ‘proper’ membership, what would be an appropriate level of membership fee?