HHPA turns 10

Groundswell are celebrating the 10th birthday of their award-winning Homeless Health Peer Advocacy (HHPA) service.

They are marking the occasion with an interview between one of Groundswell’s newest and one of Groundswell’s first ever volunteer Peer Advocates.

HHPA started in Westminster in 2010. Delivered by staff and volunteers who have been homeless themselves, HHPA supports people experiencing homelessness to access the healthcare they need. Over the past 10 years that HHPA has been operating in London:

  • 134 volunteers have graduated from the peer advocacy training
  • the team have delivered over 23,500 health engagements (a combination of one-to-one advocacy and group health promotion sessions)
  • HHPA has reached more than 10,000 people experiencing homelessness

The service is also proud to have two awards to its name, winning the Andy Ludlow Award in 2014 (now the London Homelessness Awards) and being named overall winner at the GSK Impact Awards in 2016. In the interview Gerry, who started as a volunteer in 2011 before becoming a paid Case Worker, talks about how proud she was to accept both these awards on behalf of Groundswell.

In the interview Gerry, who retired in early 2020 before joining the board of trustees, compares training memories with Tasia who became part of the HHPA team just before lockdown in March. Gerry reflects:

“[On the] first day of training it suddenly dawned on me that all the experience of me being 5 years homeless; living on the streets, drinking, just surviving, I thought I could use those. From what I thought was my past which I was ashamed of I could use it for my future and actually realised it was the passport to my future”

Tasia and Gerry discuss the importance of the role of HHPA, and why poor health is so prominent amongst people experiencing homelessness. Gerry explains:

“there is such a fear and a stigma that goes along with homelessness; they’re frightened to go to the GP or frightened to go to the hospital appointment because of how they’re going to be treated when they get there…One of the great things about being a Peer Advocate is we are the stepping stone in between them [the client] and the consultant. We can use our knowledge to help our client understand what that Dr is saying”

It’s clear in the interview Gerry’s experience over the past 10 years and the growth she has seen in HHPA brings wisdom she is keen to share with Tasia and future volunteers. Tasia asks: “what would be your one piece of advice to give that the HHPA training doesn’t give you”; Gerry replies:

“always be yourself try not to be somebody you’re not. Listen to your gut…and never turn your back on another human being”

The full interview can be watched at the top of this page. To find out more about the HHPA London service visit this page. We are proud that partners in Dublin and Cornwall have worked with us to set up their own local HHPA services, and we are supporting Crisis and Shelter to do the same in Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle through #HealthNow. Find out how we can support you to set up a HHPA service in your area.