“Homeless people are just useless and incompetent and that’s why they are homeless.”

One of the key aims of the National Advisory Panel is to ‘influence the system to adopt a trauma-informed and holistic approach to working alongside people experiencing homelessness.’

Why is this important?

The Hard Edges research highlighted that many people with experience of multiple disadvantages have experienced trauma. Recently, a comprehensive review of the evidence base on trauma-informed care for people experiencing homelessness suggests that ‘it is futile to attempt to solve the issue of homelessness (and its associated issues of offending, substance use and mental health) without addressing the underlying trauma that is so intricately interwoven with the experience of homelessness by practicing a trauma-informed approach.’

Despite the evidence, many environments within the public, voluntary, and community sector are not trauma-informed, and at worse can be re-traumatising for individuals. Staff can adopt a de-humanised approach to support, using complicated language, authoritarian approaches to what individuals need, and requiring people to repeatedly re-tell stories of past trauma in order to access support. Working in a deficit-based way has the effect of disempowering people; reducing confidence and self-esteem.

It’s always doing stuff to you.

They think you’re incapable of doing absolutely anything.”

“I was a strong willed person, but I was made to feel like I had no choice over how my life should be.”

“I think it is deficit based. If you look at when someone is having an assessment, look at what that assessment consists of. It’s all about substance misuse, your mental health, your physical health, it almost directs you there. It’s not about your interests, your hobbies. I can’t recall ever seeing what previous employment history you have, when someone is doing a housing assessment and putting a support plan with that, it goes down that [negative] road. It is negative, and people pick up on that. Let’s talk about your past, let’s talk about your offending. Some of these things services need to be aware of it, but let’s have some positive conversations as well.”

Three things organisations could do

  1. Organisations should focus on the skills that people have, and work with these to empower people to meet their aspirations. Organisations such as Street Buddies adopt this approach, working with people at their pace to achieve the outcomes they aspire too.

“When we look at a shoplifter, we look at them based on that behaviour. But we don’t look at the communication, marketing, knowing what it is and what it wants, your planning, your strategizing in case things go wrong. All skills, but we don’t recognise.”

“Some of these strengths are seen as problems to services; too empathetic, too straight-talking sometimes, and that kind of thing services don’t appreciate at best and sometimes are quite resistant too.”

  • Given the high prevalence of people who have experience of trauma, and the ‘invisibility’ of this experience to many we recommend that all staff receive mandatory training on trauma and the effect of particular environments on individuals with this experience. Staff should also receive support and supervision to ensure their own wellbeing.
  • Finally, given that evidence is not yet developed into the variations and complexities of experience between different groups with different support journeys and needs, organisations should have mechanisms to ensure understanding of how their polices and practices are effecting people who are engaging with these services. Organisations can look to adopt co-produced ways of working to make this happen.

“If you’re not taking input from people you’ll get a self-analysing sector, and staff will keep saying that homeless people are just useless and incompetent and that’s why they are homeless.”

“Trying to understand the tripwires that are not obvious. You know, a simple flow chart that says right, if this does that, misses out the reality on the ground. For example, I cannot use a phone even when I was taken into hospital, and was given emergency surgery for gallbladder related pancreatitis. I was unable to dial 999. Those sort of problems of communication, using phones or other devices, is not understood in the normal world. People just don’t experience these things. But we do. We all have our own stories to tell around these areas. And we want to make a system that is sympathetic and timely.”

The National Advisory Panel is a group of people with lived experience of disadvantage, working to make a positive change to society. For more information about the work of the Panel please visit our webpage.