Our work aims to ensure that policy and practice responses to homelessness are more informed by evidence from research and the voices of people with personal experience of homelessness.
We have supported a range of recent projects including testing personalised approaches to working with rough sleepers, a Homeless People's Commission and a major partnership research initiative on how homelessness overlaps with other issues of social exclusion. This partnership between JRF, the Economic and Social Research Council, Homeless Link, Communities and Local Government, the Tenant Services Authority and Department of Health aimed to better understand how homelessness and multiple social exclusion relate to each other.
- There is a strong overlap between experiences of the more extreme forms of homelessness and other support needs, with nearly half of 'low threshold' service users reporting experience of institutional care, substance misuse, and street culture activities (such as begging ), as well as homelessness.
- 'Visible' forms of homelessness – including people using homelessness services like hostels or applying to the council as homeless – commonly happen after long-term contact with non housing agencies, e.g. mental health, drug agencies, criminal justice agencies, social services, which signal vulnerabilities, and after periods of 'invisible' homelessness such as sofa surfing and squatting.
- Traumatic childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect and homelessness are a part of most street homeless people's life histories. This suggests that more support is needed for homeless families.
- In adulthood the reported incidence of anxiety/depression (four in five users of support services) and self harm and suicide attempts (over a third of service users have attempted suicide) is notable. This suggests that support workers need a more solid understanding of approaches to psychological support.
- The most complex needs were experienced by homeless men aged between 20 and 49, especially those in their 30s. This group is at serious risk of falling through the cracks in service provision.
- Where homelessness and housing support agencies take on primary responsibility for supporting people with multiple and complex needs, workers can often feel isolated and out of their depth. The role of the support worker now goes way beyond the low intensity support offered by many services with 25 per cent of low-threshold services users experiencing very complex problems.
- People with complex needs are at serious risk of falling through the cracks in service provision. There needs to be an integrated response across health, housing and social care.
- It is vital that support services recognise the complex lives of homeless people. We need more flexible, personal services that reflect the complexity of individual's lives so the Government can achieve the vital ambition of ending rough sleeping.