Providing shelter and nourishment for the homeless of western Scotland has been the mission for Simon Community Scotland for more than 50 years. But that’s only one aspect of Simon Community’s work.
“Putting a roof over people’s heads is just part of the story,” said Hugh Hill, Director of Services and Development at the Glasgow-based nonprofit. “What we do is try to give people hope, ambition and a sense of recovery in terms of having a life that’s not punctuated by homelessness.”
Many of the 3,000 homeless people across western Scotland with whom Simon Community works each year have suffered with trauma, abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, physical ailments and mental illness. For some, the spiral to homelessness began at an early age.
“We work with a very complex group that struggles to connect with society around them,” Hill said. “Some are often excluded or rejected from services. We stick with them. It’s a lot of counseling work, trauma work and creating an environment for people to feel safe and talk, some for the first time in many years.”
Simon Community, which provides emergency and longer-term housing across 22 locations, is most effective with one-on-one relationships that address a particular person’s vulnerabilities and needs. But until 2015, 200 staff and volunteers often had limited insights into each of its service users.
That’s because “street team” volunteers would write down information on service users with pen and paper. Similarly, staff at shelter locations took hard-copy notes when someone arrived in need of a bed. Though written information would later be entered into a desktop application, that manual work consumed three days a month for each of 18 managers.
That’s changed with Simon Community’s embrace of technology to improve its service delivery. Today, “street team” volunteers are equipped with mobile devices to record details on the person and the situation, feeding into a central repository in the NetSuite CRM system.
Similarly, shelter staff can also enter data as needed into NetSuite CRM. But more importantly, both shelter staff and street team volunteers can view a person’s complete record to better tailor services and intervention. Service users are spared from repeatedly entering details they may have provided weeks, months or even years ago.
And managers are unburdened from the time-consuming chore of typing handwritten notes into a desktop application — freeing hundreds of hours for more training of volunteers and staff, and other value-added work that directly impacts the welfare of its target population.
“NetSuite CRM fundamentally helps us provide better service to service users through intelligence that we didn’t have before,” Hill said. “We’re now better able to reach and connect with service users, offering them a more personal and significant interaction with staff.”
Award-Winning Digital Innovation
Simon Community’s transformational improvement was honored with a coveted Herald Scottish Digital Business Award in 2017, in the Charity and Social Enterprise category. Hill credits Cofficient, a NetSuite Solution Provider, for being instrumental in driving the solution from the start.
Hill first heard of NetSuite while cycling with a friend who works at Cofficient. The wheels were set in motion to implement NetSuite, supported by a software donation through Oracle+NetSuite Social Impact. The group’s mission is to accelerate the social impact of nonprofit and social enterprises globally, regardless of ability to pay, with software donations and pro bono services.
“Cofficient have built us an extremely user-friendly system and helped us to innovate beyond the core system,” Hill said. “Without them we wouldn’t have been introduced to NetSuite, and we wouldn’t have had such success with the system. They have helped us to customize it to perfectly fit our needs both in terms of simplicity and in terms of quality of output.”
One life-changing impact of Simon Community’s system is delivering personalized services based on a single record of each individual. For instance, it’s built out health profiles of service users that help prompt preventative and other treatments that would otherwise be overlooked.
“The combination of staff training and systemization of those who are at risk and should be screened we hope will literally save lives,” Hill said.
Deeper Insights and Positive Feedback
At a macro level, Simon Community has deeper insights into the community it serves. With centralized data and reporting, Simon Community determined that 70 percent of its service users smoke, prompting new smoking cessation initiatives.
With NetSuite and Google Maps, Simon Community is able to map out common “rough sleeping” locations so that street teams can zero in with help in key areas, including some far from Glasgow center. A new Bike Outreach program equips volunteers to pedal out to the city’s edges, extending the group’s reach.
Next up, Simon Community plans to use NetSuite inventory management to track food, clothing and other donated items in a recently acquired warehouse. That will give the nonprofit insights into when stock of an item is running low, so it can proactively seek additional donations.
One key indicator of Simon Community’s success comes from service users themselves.
“The quality of service has improved, and we know that because we get feedback from service users,” Hill said. “We have service user forums and bring people together, and the feedback has been very positive.”