Having a Voice: Homelessness in Stoke-on-Trent
This study provides a snapshot of homelessness within Stoke-on-Trent and offers insights from both stakeholders and people experiencing homelessness, such as seeking help and access to services, and what should be done moving forward.
Homelessness is defined as individuals who engage in rough sleeping and individuals without secure accommodation. Within the UK in 2016/17 over 59,000 people were considered homeless, an increase of 2% from the previous year as well as an estimated 4751 rough sleepers, up 15% from the previous year ((Fitzpatrick et al, 2018; MHCLG, 2018). Comparably, within 2019 an estimated 4266 were considered rough sleepers (MHCLG, 2020)
This study focuses on the lived experiences of people who have experienced homelessness and the views of professional stakeholders regarding the challenges facing people experiencing homelessness. The study identified ways of improving the services provided for both the individuals experiencing homelessness and the professional stakeholders working with them. The study also explored street activity, which involves activities such as street drinking, begging and interactions with the general public.
Semi structured interviews with 8 people who identified themselves as homeless (core participants) and 20 stakeholders with expertise around homelessness were carried out, to identify areas which needed to be addressed for improvement. A stakeholder event presenting initial findings following the interviews was held and the peer researchers (researchers who have lived experience of homelessness) discussed recommendations for an action plan encouraging collective action.
The study used thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2006) to identify ‘pathways to support’ and ‘developing opportunities’ as key themes. The first theme, pathways to support, highlighted that there were multiple and complex needs among the target population and thus it is difficult to identify a ‘one size fits all’ solution and instead suggests the need for flexible and tailored interventions for the individual. Within the sample there were some common themes such as living with co-existing physical and mental health problems and learning difficulties (e.g. deep vein thrombosis, anxiety and dyslexia), as well as substance misuse. Participants talked about substance misuse having triggered various negative effects such as hallucinations, paranoia and/or aggressive behaviour. Many participants reported having spent time in prison with some stated that prison was preferable to spending the colder months on the streets. Whilst these areas present opportunities for support, many of the participants stated it was not clear how to access the available support. This is highlighted by one participant attempting to seek help from hearing voices only to be turned away everywhere they tried. Some participants also stated paperwork as a barrier to accessing support because they were unable to complete it themselves.
The second theme identified was developing opportunities and within this the appeal of the city centre. Stoke-on-Trent’s city centre provided an opportunity to beg for food and money from shoppers, people experiencing homelessness highlighted positive interactions with people as an appeal of the city centre which stakeholders suggest may contribute to a sense of community for the core participants. It also allowed for access to various support services, such as clinics and accommodation. Stakeholders felt the people experiencing homelessness in the city centre may negatively impact on businesses prompting the suggestion of providing somewhere else for them to go and something else for them to do, rather than loitering in the streets, which was identified by both stakeholders and core participants. Stakeholders suggested the need for a safe space for people to go and meet during the day which would provide an alternative to congregating on the street. Furthermore, people experiencing homelessness suggested services through which they could pursue their interests and skills, such as music and food which could be addressed through the improvement of current city assets and resources rather than creating new services.
A strength of this study was the use of participatory methods which allows for the perspectives from both the lived experienced group and the professional stakeholders to be put forward in a stakeholder feedback session. However, this study was unable to capture the experiences of homeless women which is a limitation future studies may wish to address to avoid gendered assumptions about service provision.
Overall, the study highlights the need to improve accessibility to the current services available to people experiencing homelessness and encourages improving pre-existing services rather than investing in new solutions as this maximises on what is already available.
Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative research in psychology, 3(2), 77-101.
Fitzpatrick, S., Pawson, H., Bramley, G., Wilcox, S., & Watts, B. (2016). “The homelessness monitor: England 2016”, available at: www.crisis.org.uk/media/236828/the_homelessness_monitor_ england_2016.pdf
Massie, R., Machin., McCormack, F., & Kurth, J. (2018). Having a voice: A collaborative research project exploring the challenges and assets of people experiencing homelessness. Journal of Integrated Care, 26(4), 342-352.