Changing public perception of homelessness through co-production

What is the general public perception of homelessness, and what influences this?


When people talk about homelessness, they are often thinking of people who are rough sleeping.

But as many of us who have experienced homelessness or work to end homelessness know, the majority of those who are homeless aren’t on the streets.

What is ‘visible’ to many people is not a true representation of what homelessness looks and feels like.

So how can we give the general public a view into a world that is invisible?



In this month’s Conversation on Co-production (made up of people with experience of homelessness, people working to end homelessness, those passionate about co-production and all the overlaps!) we explored what we believe homelessness looks like.


What it’s not

More often than not, the truth is the complete opposite to the adverts and films and debates we hear. These often paint the picture of an ‘undeserving poor,’ where an individual is blamed for circumstances they are seen to have created themselves.

There is a big misconception around drugs, alcohol and mental health being the only cause of homelessness, although only around 1 in 3 people experiencing homelessness reported problematic drug or alcohol use (source: Crisis Skylight Final Report of the University of York evaluation).


We are all individuals

It is evident from the wisdom of people with lived experience, this is not a one size fits all issue.

Homelessness can look very different depending on various factors, including social class, family dynamics and relationships, whether you are neurotypical or neurodiverse, and social capital.

Some of our members have reported experiences of people's astonishment that they had experienced homelessness, because they were degree educated, or well-presented and articulate.


Not having a home

When we strip it back to basics, the dictionary definition of home is ‘The place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household’. If a person does not have that, they are considered homeless. This opens up our perception from a narrow view of homelessness meaning purely rough sleeping, to include those living in temporary accommodation, or sofa surfing.

And homelessness is so much more than a housing issue. As one of our members shared “having a house is not the same as having a home. The internal sense of home is very different to the bricks and mortar”.


How do we best portray the truth of invisible homelessness?

The group believes that storytelling by those with lived experience is an effective way of communicating what homelessness is, in a productive way that seeks to educate and end homelessness.

However, there are potentially many difficulties in people telling their own stories. Ultimately, we must ensure that when we are asking people with lived experience of homelessness to share their stories, it is done from a position of compassion and empowerment, in a way that is mindful of the traumatic effect of repeating negative experiences.

With this in mind, the group has created some top tips, based on care, clarity and control, for anyone who is facilitating storytelling sessions with those with experience of homelessness:


• Wraparound care before, during and after
• Check in with person just beforehand – is now a good time?
• Trigger warnings – those involved should be aware of the content of the stories beforehand


• Explain clearly what will be involved - purpose, format, how many people there, who they are
• Give explicit permission to have a break during, if they need to, without having to ask or explain
• Set audience ground rules beforehand to avoid ‘ambushing’ of the storyteller


• People should be given the autonomy to have complete control of their own stories. Being able to remove and amend as necessary
• Suggest people talk in the third person – “it feels like” or “what people do” are not so personal as “I” statements, “I felt”, “I did” etc
• Consider anonymising printed content – make the point that once something is out there, it will be out there forever, are they happy with that?


If we are able to support those with lived experience of homelessness to tell their stories, in a considerate and well supported way, we will be able to educate on the truth of the systemic causes of homelessness and squash the stigma surrounding it.

What are the misperceptions you are aware of? Are there any more tips you would provide? Please let us know – we’d love to hear from you


If you are wanting some pointers on getting started with co-production, check out Expert Links videos here.

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