YMCA Cheltenham: Breaking the cycle of repeat homelessness

Posted in

Read why YMCA Cheltenham’s new approach to homelessness is a ‘win-win’ all round.

Social Problem

Many people experiencing homelessness also have other challenges to overcome, such as mental health issues, so moving from living on the street to living independently can be difficult.

Joseph Main is CEO of YMCA Cheltenham. He explains, “Once you become homeless, you enter a system and can often move into supported accommodation. The expectation is that you will then progress in a linear, positive direction towards living independently. But there are all kinds of contributing factors as to why someone became homeless in the first place, which means that they may not be able to always progress in a positive direction. If they stop ‘engaging’, then they will often fall out of the system.

“The only way to then get support is to become street homeless again and start the journey right at the beginning. Every time someone is churned through that process, it diminishes their resilience, creates loss of hope and loss of dignity, and makes it more difficult to progress.”


YMCA Cheltenham has changed the way it tackles homelessness. Joseph shares, “Our service has more flex and takes a more person-centric approach, including peer support. We build our homelessness provision and support around the individual and their capacity and ability to progress. When someone is referred to us, they start in our gateway scheme and then move into a follow-on property when they’re ready for the next step. They’re partnered with a member of staff who stays with them throughout their journey, so they can build a relationship. There’s a sense of progression, of moving forward, until they’re able to become independent.

“However, if they struggle, they can slip back a step in a safe way. They stay within our care, so we still have that relationship with them.”


YMCA Cheltenham first approached Charity Bank about refinancing a mortgage on one of its temporary emergency accommodation properties. The original mortgage had a high interest rate, so refinancing saved the charity money. It also used some of the loan towards the cost of acquiring and renovating an additional property.

YMCA Cheltenham has recently taken out another Charity Bank loan. Alongside funding from the local authority and the Department of Levelling Up, the new loan has enabled the charity to purchase 14 two-bed flats for families at risk of homelessness and also families fleeing the war in Ukraine.

“With Charity Bank, we have a partner who we can talk to and who really understands us.”

Joseph Main, CEO of YMCA Cheltenham


The Charity Bank loans are helping YMCA to roll-out its new approach to homelessness. Joseph says, “Charity Bank has become part of a tripartite relationship with ourselves and Homes England. That arrangement has allowed us to provide more accommodation and strengthen our financial resilience.”

“Some people would usually fall back into homelessness within a matter of weeks. We say to the local authority that once someone is referred to us and are in our PATHWAY HOME, we aim that they will not be back on the street for at least one year. Some people may need longer, and that’s OK. There are many benefits to our approach: it helps society more generally, in terms of reducing the costs and the impact of homelessness; it helps the individual by ensuring they’re receiving high quality support that’s specifically designed for them; and it helps us because it’s a more efficient way of working. So it's a win-win all round.”

The improved service is already seeing results. Joseph shares, “The national statistics for ‘positive move on’ can be as low as around 50–53%. We’ve increased that to 74–76% within just one year.”

“I came to YMCA Cheltenham in June 2017. My life was pretty messed up. For the first few weeks I hardly spoke to anyone and I made some stupid choices, but my keyworker was really understanding and challenged me to get my act together. I am now a team leader in a high quality hotel restaurant and free from class A drugs. I am just about to move into my own flat and know that my keyworker will continue to keep an eye on me and help me to settle in. I can honestly say that without the help of the YMCA I don’t know where I would be now, probably not alive.”

A YMCA Cheltenham client

About Charity Bank

Charity Bank is the loans and savings bank owned by and committed to supporting the social sector. Since 2002, we have used our savers’ money to make more than 1,200 loans totalling over £450m to housing, education, social care, community and other social purpose organisations.

Find out more about us here.

Nothing in this article constitutes an invitation to engage in investment activity nor is it advice or a recommendation and professional advice should be taken before any course of action is pursued.