The Escape Plan is a peer research study conducted by and for homeless people to help identify the critical success factors that have enabled people to move on from homelessness.
Peer researchers undertook in depth qualitative interviews with 25 formerly homeless people ‘The Escapees’ and up to two Significant Others – that is people who had an insight into their journey out of homelessness, including friends, family members and support workers.
We identified some initial themes which we took to three groups of people participating in the research–including Escapees, workers and friends. This process enabled us to dig deeper, develop the themes and bring the study to life and we agreed on seven critical success factors for moving on from homelessness:
- Being involved in a group. Activities like training, volunteering and group work were invaluable – giving people an opportunity to engage with things that were beyond day-to-day existence, increasing self-worth, developing confidence, helping people find structure, escape boredom and gain a sense of belonging.
- Changing your attitude towards yourself and others. Positive turning points were often related to a significant change in the way someone felt about themselves and related to others. Escapees talked about overcoming pride in asking for help, learning to trust people, being honest with themselves and with others – especially with workers, forgiving themselves and fostering hope. Importantly, people talked about starting to take responsibility for making positive things happen.
- Hitting rock bottom. It was common for Escapees to talk about getting to a key turning point – a place where they could not continue from in the way that they had. Some specifically talked about this point as ‘rock bottom -w a moment, an epiphany, a realisation that things had become out of control and they broke down and looked for a way out. Ten participants reported hitting rock bottom as being one of their significant turning points.
- Workers and Services. Many people felt that a good worker had made a big difference to them. People identified characteristics of a good worker as one that will go the extra mile, stick with you, utilise their personal experience, challenge, encourage, believe in you, value you and care.
- Peer perspectives and client involvement. Having the perspective of peers was a critical for many – both through formal channels such as peer mentor schemes or more informally from people they met on the streets or in hostels. Many participants said that participating in client involvement initiatives was important, both as a means of developing yourself but also to fulfil a sense of duty to give back.
- Recognising the importance of social networks, friends and family. For many the support of friends and/or family was vital.
- Coming to terms with the homeless experience. Some Escapees saw their homeless experience as an entirely negative one. However, other participants expressed positive memories of their homeless experience, particularly when recalling the unique camaraderie of street life. The idea of recognising some skills, such as an increased resourcefulness gained through homelessness came through strongly, with a case for building on these as a starting point for moving on. What seemed key to people coming to terms with their experience of homelessness was the ability to reflect back and consider what was lost, but also what may have been gained through their experiences. This reflection appeared vital in helping people gain the resolve to rebuild their lives. Below is the full report, and also the booklet The Escape Plan, which presents the findings by posing a series of questions, prompting people experiencing homelessness to develop their own paths out of homelessness – their own Escape Plan. As the notebook states…
“We know that we do not have all the answers, but we think we have uncovered the right questions.”
The Escape Plan Notebook that was created as a part of the project includes thoughts, quotes and reflections and asks questions to help you devise your own Escape Plan. It can be downloaded here. A limited number of printed copies of the Notebook remain, if you would like one please contact the Groundswell Office.