Dr Gillian Squirrell

Non-profits and non-profit programs in the US and UK

This page briefly introduces some headlines about my portfolio of non-profit programs and projects.  All projects and programs, aside from having the obvious intentions of doing good and doing well, are test sites for the interaction of theory and practice, for theory generation and putting principles of action research, action learning and participant engagement to work. 

These projects all reflect my concern for what seems to me to be the only way that people will engage or re-engage with society, that is having accommodation, employment, learning or voluntary work, and developing skills to be in relationship with self and others.  These elements represent a three legged stool and if any leg is missing or really wobbly it simply can't stay upright.

These projects also reflect my commitment to the importance of taking action to build compassionate communities and to do this at a very grassroots level. 

I talk and and present about particular projects and some of the broader principles at work: insider researchers, action research, working with vulnerable adults; working with animals; developing effective empowerment and participation; homelessness, recovery and desistance moving into employment or volunteering.

Living Homeless - 2014 to date

This non-profit grew from a concern about people living homeless who are very much at the margins of homeless support and provision.  Beginning with a marginalized 24% Homeless With Pets has moved to take actions in four areas to provide services and support.

  1. To provide support so homeless people can better look after their animals.  We offer donated animal food and supplies, free vaccine and wellness clinics, help with managing animals while living homeless and to agencies that service people living homeless. 
  2. Helping homeless shelter and day service providers and other allied professionals develop understandings about the value of the human-animal bond.  Help such professionals develop policies and practices to safely and supportively work with the HAB.
  3. Providing supplies and food to people living homeless who are underserved by other agencies.  We have a particular interest in people living in vehicles.
  4. Creating workforce development programs and developing personal resilience so people living homeless can rediscover skills and aspects of their identities beyond the problematic label of 'being homeless'. The intentions being to help people develop community and peer leadership skills, to develop evidence that supports entry to volunteering, employment and housing. 

Check out www.homelesswithpets.org ; www.homelesswithpets.info and facebook.com/workingdog.co

For more information and for project updates.

Working Dogs Working Lives - 2011 to date

This is a suite of programs for vulnerable adults developing interpersonal and intrapersonal skills and self-awareness, and developing basic and workplace skills.  Working with another species demands a real focus on safety, boundaries, expectations and communication skills.  Presented with a dog or the opportunity to help with rescued animals or at a humane society who wouldn't want to focus on developing these skills?  Working with animals means participants are often more than ready to meet you more than 50% of the way in terms of ground-rules and seeing the significance of content.

The emphasis in Working Dogs Working Lives is on working with rather than simply absorbing the therapeutic benefits of being with an animal.  Inevitably being with animals does generate a raft of therapeutic benefits and these are experienced by participants.  These include, for example, stress-reduction through the stimulation of oxytocin; mirroring between person and animal of energy and behaviors, and learning to work with as  a sentient bio-feedback agent.

Working Dogs Working Lives works with canines.  Dogs are acutely skilled at interpreting human communication and who, with patience and some training, can be understood in what they are communicating by people.  Working Dogs Working Lives is a structured curriculum with experiential learning and learning outcomes. 

Working Dogs Working Lives has been presented at several conferences Minding Animals, Utrecht, 2012; The Third International Canine Science Forum, Barcelona (poster) 2012; Second International Conference at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 2013.  The program is being written up as a  a book.

Check out www.working-dog.org

For more information about the programs.

What about animals ?

For years I had been engaged as a program evaluator or as a program designer with various types of interventions  -  football, sports, the great outdoors and nature experience, creative writing, performance and other types of experiential learning activity.  The programs were all created to help re-engage children and adults in their learning and development, in accessing services, or in seeking engagement with pathways into employment.

Never however had I worked with an inter-species program.  What I had observed at St Vincent's (see below) was the profound calming effect of bringing Brodie, a Samoyed, onto the premises. Brodie would step out for on-calls at night and when there were incidents.  No matter the rage, tension or upset, the dog exerted an effect more swiftly than any human, no matter how skilled.  The dog shifted the emotional energy and affect, no-one actually wanted to be loud and angry when the dog was present, while for those who were upset and in distress she was an opportunity to receive unconditional love and regard.

Brodie visited the residents' forum, a monthly policy meeting and airing of the larger operational concerns and issues, she would take time and move around the circle, receiving salutations from the group's members and then opt to hang with a few of the group.  Her selection criteria mysteriously her own, but the effects of her calming and cheering people or singling them out as worthy of special attention that evening were quite palpable.  

Brodie was also, I had joked, my research assistant. She would ride along when I was working with various people moving into recovery on their narratives and life stories, exploring the nature of desistance, what motivated their desire for change and what served  them in their change process.  Brodie would receive love and attention, have her ears repetitiously stroked and the ruff under her chin petted. It became clear that the joke was actually on me.  I was as of much importance in the process as the wallpaper.  The actual recipient of the narrative was Brodie, maybe I somehow channeled her questions to explore themes and tease out a sense making process, but my role was more of chauffeur, the operator of the tape recorder and a note-taker, Brodie was the actual recipient of the life story. 

  • So what is it about animals that impacts people ?
  • How might an inter-species program might work ? 
  • What is it about an animal that might assist in a change and individual development process ? 
  • What would happen in such a program ? 
  • How would you evaluate it ?
  • How would it be for the animal ? 
  • What are the issues about an animal's welfare ? 

Such were the questions in 2011 that shifted my research and program development attention to a new challenge.  Of course you cannot work with another species without understanding the species and knowing how to work in ways which will be supportive to that animal's well-being and welfare.  An opportunity for much training, patience, observation, another Masters and a whole new world of academic and professional literature to explore.  This in itself is worthy of another book.

Conference Papers and Posters: Human- Animal Bond and Evaluation in HAI

  • Let's Take a Walk on the Wild Side: The Human-Animal Bond, Health and Human Services, January Lecture for Sonoma Community Mental Health Services, January 2017
  • Take a Walk on the Shadow Side: Power, Pets and Living Homeless with Animal Companions, Oxford, UK, September 2016
  • I Won’t Give Up Gracie: Living Homeless With Animal Companions, IAHAIO Paris, July 2016
  • Furthering the Field: Evaluation and AAI, workshop, IAHAIO Paris, July 2016
  • Evaluation and Animal Assisted Interventions: Marrying Theory and Practice, Keynote for Inaugural Conference, Institute of Anthrozoology, The Netherlands, 2015
  • Homelessness and Animal Companions, Animal Human Interactions 2nd International Conference, Oxford, July 2015
  • Challenging Disposability: Environment, Humans and Non-Human Animals, Human-Animal Interactions 2, North Eastern Kentucky University March, 2015
  • Evaluation Research and Practice in Animal Assisted Interventions, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel, May 2013
  • Women the Criminal Justice, Substance Abuse and Working Dogs, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel, May 2013  
  • Creating Working Dogs Working Lives, Barcelona, Spain, 3rd Canine Science Conference, Poster Presentation
  • Working Dogs Working Lives, Utrecht, Netherlands, Minding Animals Conference July, 2012
  • Evaluation Research and Animal Assistance Programs, Sonoma Humane Society, October 2011

Housing, Learning and Employment

St. Vincent's was intended to be a flag ship for alternative ways of stimulating learning and moves into employment for people released from jail and treatment.  It was intended as a third-stage program for those in recovery to support them in sobriety.

St. Vincent's Housing Learning and Guidance was borne in 1999, after 5 years of holding contracts for prison education and vocational training (1993-1997) a product of the UK's desire to follow in the footsteps of putting public services out to tender.  Supposedly this contracting out made services cost effective and improved quality and customer choice.  That was at least the paradigm and rhetoric of that time.  Despite trying to create quality education programs that reflected mainstream provision and have staff trained and accredited able to deliver qualifications that employers would recognize, at that time NVQs and GNVQs and Basic Literacy and IT qualifications, it was obvious that our population of students were very much a part of the revolving door.  Prisoners left but re-entered the local jails and remand centers.  Not having a place to live or a place to live away from their usual environs, seemed significant contributions to the problems of re-offending and re-engagement with substance abuse.  The Revolving Door is an old chestnut of a problem in recidivism.  People enter jail homeless (10%) in the US and up to 30-50% of parolees exiting jail are homeless, at least on West Coast US.  People mandated to treatment can leave treatment homeless despite efforts to try to get people housed.  A lack of accommodation puts at risk sobriety and the possibilities of not re-offending.  US figures for California suggest within 3 years 66% of people have re-offended and re-entered the criminal justice system with fresh convictions. 

St Vincent's was intended to be a place that would offer accommodation and the possibility of being a 'home', offering through counseling and key-working to assist in planning longer-term housing, supporting people in sobriety and helping them access training and employment.  We had a number of exceptional successes with this small independent and rather quirky project. 

Over four years the accommodation on offer grew from 16 beds to 31 beds, an additional 15 beds.  These additional beds created an extra step in the process of moving from jail or treatment into the community.  It was  step designed to forestall relapse by creating a softer exit from supported housing.  These 15 beds were in smaller units: two five bedroom houses and a house dived into a three bedroom flat and a two bedroom flat. These smaller units intentionally offered less support: a weekly house meeting, room checks and on-call help, plus opportunities to return to the main house for key-working and assistance.  From this more independent living residents would sally forth into council accommodation and other accommodation.  The 'failure rate' with relapse and re-offending was slashed. 

Desistance as a behavior is of course a complex on the measure and plagues all types of behavior change interventions -  is it on exit, after a month, six months or longer ?

Conference Papers

  • Maintaining Desistance in the Community, North Atlantic Treatment Forum, Blankenberge, 2005
  • Going Curved Going Straight: Resettlement and Desistance, Howard Reform League, Oxford, 2003
  • We Don't Need to Set the World Alight, Just Nudge It Along a Little: Independent Housing Provision for Offenders CCJS, Kings College London, 2002
  • St Vincent Patron Saint of Drunkards or Throughcare ? Lessons in Multi-Agency Working with Offenders in the Community, University of Dundee, Prison Education Conference, 2001