Homelessness charity CEO Helen Carlin stands down after 26 years

Homelessness charity CEO Helen Carlin stands down after 26 years

Helen Carlin

The founder and CEO of the homelessness charity Rowan Alba is to stand down after 26 years.

Helen Carlin began her career as a housing visitor at the City of Edinburgh Council in 1985. Through this work, Helen saw the need for long-term supported accommodation for homeless people and began a discourse about how this type of accommodation could be created.

Helen started Rowan Alba in 1997 with the aim of creating a new approach to homelessness which also addressed the strategic issues behind it. Rowan Alba’s first service was at-home community support for people in danger of becoming homeless due to a problematic relationship with alcohol. The working practices and compassionate approach Helen developed through this service were extended in 2004 to a 1 flat Homes-for-Life supported accommodation centre on Thorntree Street in Leith, created in partnership with Bield Housing Association and the City of Edinburgh Council.

Thorntree Street has delivered 24-hour support for the past 19 years, giving a home to many men who were deemed unsuitable for any other form of accommodation. They have enjoyed companionship and dignity. The Care Inspectorate has consistently rated the service as ‘Very Good’ in all areas.

Homelessness charity CEO Helen Carlin stands down after 26 years

Karen Barr takes over the role of CEO from today

Helen Carlin, CEO of Rowan Alba, said: “There is an answer to street homelessness. We are the only organisation in the UK offering homes-for-life to those with a history of repeat homelessness. Current Scottish Government plans do not accommodate the significant numbers of rough sleepers and repeat homeless people.

“Rowan Alba know these people well and these are the people whom we support every day at Thorntree Street. The development at Thorntree Mill delivers the same pioneering service, offering safe and secure permanent accommodation, support with physical and emotional health and help with accepting and managing alcohol use for service users.”

The unique working practices developed by Helen and her staff team at Thorntree Street have been proven to be highly effective in supporting people, who may have lived on the streets for many years, to lead a stable and fulfilling life within a real community. This set of working practices is called The Thorntree Model. Rowan Alba have been active in the sharing of this model with other organisations who may seek to deliver services for a similar group. A 2019 independent evaluation showed that Thorntree Street saves the public purse £3-4 for every £1 invested due to a reduction in the use of other public services such as Police involvement, A&E attendance, and Hospital Admissions.

Under Helen’s direction, Rowan Alba has created several other services bringing a strategic approach to homelessness. In her long career, Helen’s work has touched the lives of some of the most vulnerable and misunderstood people in society, culminating in the opening of Thorntree Mill, Rowan Alba’s second homes-for-life in September 2022.

Helen will be replaced in her role as CEO by Karen Barr from the 31st of March 2023. Karen’s extensive experience includes roles for Angus Council, and CEO of Abbeyfield Scotland Ltd from 2018-2022.

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