By Stephan Morrison, Groundswell Research Project Officer
Groundswell is a homeless health charity that works with people who have experienced homelessness, and believes that creating an environment where people who are affected by homelessness are central to the decisions that affect their lives to provide better insight and better decisions.
We have been working in partnership with Fulfilling Lives Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham, New Philanthropy Capital and the Centre for Economic, Regional and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University on a research and learning project centred around multiple disadvantage.
What is Fulfilling Lives?
Fulfilling Lives is an eight-year project funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. Its aim is to improve the support offered to people experiencing multiple disadvantages such as homelessness, mental health, substance use and contact with the criminal justice system so they can lead a more fulfilling life. This will in turn strengthen our communities and reduce costs to public services.
Fulfilling Lives have a focus in three main areas to help bring about change and create a more effective environment; the areas include co-production, service delivery and system change. The program works alongside people to improve the way services are delivered as well as harvesting a culture of co-production – where those with lived experience are integral and essential to how services are designed and delivered.
This enables the voice of lived experience to be influential at a local and national level and help bring about changes to the current system that are both transformative and lasting in equal measure.
How have Groundswell been involved?
Groundswell’s role in the project has included conducting 41 qualitative in-depth telephone interviews with people experiencing multiple disadvantages in Lambeth, Southwark & Lewisham. This research was delivered by researchers with lived experience themselves.
A reference group/panel of experts by experience also fed into the research. The group supported the development of systems map, case studies, analysing the data and providing questions for the qualitative interviews.
The group also made informative, inspired and thought-provoking podcasts as well as reflective writing for the report and presenting their findings and observations at a Fulfilling Lives event on 1 July 2021.
The research findings
Some of the findings gathered from the research and analysis found that the correlation between the experiences of substance use, mental ill health, criminal justice issues and homelessness were often overlooked.
Dual diagnosis was described as a catch-22 situation as it was difficult to get help for co-existing mental ill health and substance use issues simultaneously. One interviewee summed it up perfectly when they said,
“The housing was more important to me than heroin, but heroin was more available than housing.”
Mental health was often misunderstood, and a person’s needs weren’t always regarded as serious enough to warrant support, but rather participants described needing to reach crisis point before they could access help as explained by another interviewee when discussing his experience with mental health services,
“but it always felt to me that unless you were frothing at the mouth and sort of like completely doolally at the time…”
Participants also shared that services often put unrealistic expectations on clients and were designed in a way that put undue pressure on people to be at a certain point in their recovery.
Better outcomes were achieved when people were seen holistically rather than a ‘collection of issues.’ It allowed room to build stronger relationships and provided an environment where people were more likely to be open and willing to receiving support.
Ultimately for people experiencing multiple disadvantages there was a need for good role models, services that listened and supported them without being judgmental and critical of the choices they have made.
Based on the findings of the research it was concluded that services, and the system within which they operate, need to address the ways in which support services are delivered and how they respond to people who access support.
Some of the recommendations included building structures so services can work across disciplinary boundaries, offering flexible support and responding to individual journey’s, providing support for people in transition as well as tailoring support based on peoples strengths.
Creating opportunities for people with lived experience of multiple disadvantage to join the workforce and help shape services would be beneficial for all.