Jeremy Swain

Jeremy Swain

Jeremy Swain is chief executive of Thames Reach, a voluntary sector organisation that every year works with more than 4,000 rough sleepers and other vulnerable homeless people in London, providing a range of services. In 2008 Thames Reach was selected as one of the top 100 medium-size organisations in the Sunday Times Best Companies to Work for Awards.

Swain started work in the homelessness sector in 1980, moving to Thames Reach in 1984 where he spent four years as a street outreach worker before progressing to housing services manager and then chief executive of Thames Reach in 2001.

Apart from being a London Housing Foundation board member, he is also a non-executive director of StreetShine, a social business employing former homeless people to provide a shoe care service to corporate businesses. He chairs the Pan-London Providers' Group comprising the chief executives of seven of the largest providers of homelessness services in London, is an active member of Acevo (the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations) and sits on the Business Action on Homelessness London Steering Group.

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My inspiration: Dennis Brown, traveller and intellectual

This week, a group of bright and energetic young people from a major auditing business visited one of our hostels. As part of their corporate social responsibility commitment the company wants to support Thames Reach. The hostel residents have all spent many years sleeping rough on the streets. Sitting in the garden, our visitors listen transfixed to Michael who has the battered visage and colourful life history that fascinates, shocks and appals. They are intrigued too by the staff - and puzzled. ‘What made you enter this line of work?’ they ask. These are good people, but the sub-text is indisputably: ‘Why would articulate, educated and capable people like you want to do this work when you could earn vastly greater sums of money and attain greater status in the corporate sector’? Then, predictably, they also ask me, ‘Who inspired you?’ I can feel the short-list being shoved in my direction. Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Mandela?

Stephen's funeral

Funerals of homeless people are frequently harrowing. I have attended too many: around three a year for the last 29 years. There is the gnawing anxiety about the size of the congregation. Will there be enough people in attendance to give them a decent send off? My worst funeral was Ken Hobart’s. When I arrived at the crematorium it quickly became apparent that I would be the only one to pay him last respects. Ken had fought with the British army during the Second World War in the Far East. It was highly likely that some of his comrades were still alive but it seems that for years before his death he was long gone and forgotten.

Feeble, wretched and hopeless

There is little about the subject of homelessness which raises the spirit. The lives of homeless people are frequently bleak, often mundane; short on glamour. Consequently, programmes about the homeless are rarely shown on prime-time TV. Instead they are shuffled off to the early-morning or late-night slot. Famous, Rich and Homeless, broadcast over two evenings in June at 9.00pm on BBC1 was the exception. It tracked the experiences of five celebrities as they faced the most extreme form of homelessness: rough sleeping.

Rising to debate on the thorny issue of governance

There are few things about the voluntary sector guaranteed to raise a laugh, but the debate at the acevo annual conference is becoming a sure ticket, Tania Mason explains.

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