How can the health of people living in Temporary Accommodation be improved?

How can the health of people living in Temporary Accommodation be improved?
22/09/2023 Becky Evans

Finding yourself in Temporary Accommodation (TA) may not feel like the end of the world – it’s a roof over your head, isn’t it? However, for many of societies already vulnerable and marginalized communities, such as former rough sleepers and those with mental health needs you can almost see that it might be.

Blog by Stephan Morrison, Research Officer.

A home, regardless of the circumstances that brought us there, is somewhere we would all hope provides an environment that enhances our wellbeing. Somewhere that adequately caters for our basic needs to cook, wash, store our belongings and sleep well. A place that reinforces our feelings of safety and security, enables us to put down roots and enriches our relationship with our local community and the services it provides. A place that we can access, that can meet our individual needs. Surely, we all want that. Truly, we all deserve that. Don’t we? It doesn’t feel like we’re asking for much, after all it’s a basic human right as outlined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR):

 “the human right to adequate housing is the right of every woman, man, youth and child to gain and sustain a safe and secure home and community in which to live in peace and dignity.”

With 60,000 Londoners currently estimated to be living in TA the evidence would suggest otherwise. For one, you’re more than twice as likely to spend over a year in TA compared to households in the rest of England, this hardly seems temporary. If you dig into the UDHR, the reference to health and wellbeing is prominent, however when recent studies have shown a link between living in TA and poor physical and mental health and that a significant number of people in TA find it hard to access the appropriate healthcare you begin to wonder why TA in its current guise isn’t working for so many. As more people rely on this form of housing, especially in London, we really need to ask the question – how do we make temporary accommodation better?

That’s where Groundswell’s new research “Improving the health of people living in Temporary Accommodation in London” launched today can provide insight. The most valuable way to answer this question was to ask those who know best – those with first-hand experience of what it’s like living in TA in London – so that’s what we did.

Most people we spoke to had formerly slept rough and were transitioning into their accommodation, others had come from hospital or were refugees. All were experiencing either or both physical and mental health issues, issues around trauma, violence, addiction and abuse were also prevalent.

And yet despite being so obviously in need of healthcare, tailored support, understanding and empathy they’d experienced a distinct lack of choice, control and autonomy when accessing and living in TA. Their experiences in general were of being provided poor and inappropriate accommodation unsuitable for their needs:

“My mental health suffered early March. I was on the mend when I left hospital, I was really, really put back… I was put back together. I had a lovely team, all the nurses, all the mental health nurses, every day…Now I feel that due to very minimal support or hard to access support I struggle with adhering to my meds, I struggle with getting clean, with keeping things tidy”  

The people we spoke to found support from health and housing workers was limited and inconsistent which created significant barriers to finding and accessing healthcare. One of the hardest aspects of living in TA was how long they would be there – how temporary is temporary? Was it three months, was it six months, was it a year, five years or even nine years because all of those happened to be the reality for someone we spoke to. That often didn’t allow people to put down roots and engage with support within the community which exacerbated feelings of isolation, insecurity and hopelessness.

So back to improving TA. Working with people who have experience of homelessness (in particular TA) and stakeholders from across the homelessness and health sectors, including representatives from the NHS, Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, local authorities and the voluntary sector, we have co-created 4 actions which we believe would improve the health of people living in TA in London (read the full detailed actions on page 28-32 of our report).

  • Improve the availability and quality of housing provided.
  • Equip people living in TA with appropriate support.
  • Provide and encourage more opportunities for joint working between housing and health sectors.
  • Ensure TA is person-centred and psychologically informed.

Groundswell are one of 11 grantees of the ‘Better Temporary Accommodation for Londoners’ initiative funded by Trust for London and Oak Foundation that aims to strengthen the voice, connections and influence of people in Temporary Accommodation (TA) and ultimately to improve people’s experience of TA. This research has been launched on Friday 22nd September at Trust for London’s ‘Better TA for Londoners September Showcase’ event.