Homeless System Under Deconstruction

Homelessness System Under Deconstruction sheds light on Mayday’s transformation from a small housing support provider running an inquiry into how people felt about the quality of support, to an organisation championing systems-change to support asset-based and personalised approaches. The report follows a chronological order, beginning with the early days of the Wisdom from the Streets Inquiry and our response, organisational cultural
change, model development and refinement, learning and evaluation, and tells stories of individuals who have found their spark and successfully transitioned out of homelessness.

The report brings together both our experience on the ground, and the findings from the research and evaluation team at the Logical Thinking Consultancy.

We hope this report starts a wider debate about how we work together to create the paradigm shift needed to improve our responses to people experiencing homelessness.

You can catch up with the presentations from the launch of this report and Mayday’s Personal Transitions Service here

Download full report: Homelessness System Under Deconstruction

How does the PTS work?

Watch our PTS Front line video to find out how the PTS works and what it means to be an Asset Coach at Mayday.

The Mayday Poem

Our incredibly talented resident poet, Joe Cook, has produced a Mayday Poem for us based on his experience of spending time with our PTS team in Oxford and how he feels about the homelessness system.

10 of 10: Having control

“Imagine suffering years of abuse and then being forced to live with men you don’t know. What would you do?”

Many people we spoke to said that past experience of abuse and trauma meant they didn’t feel comfortable in supported accommodation. Others said that they felt that they had to share their traumatic experiences to prove that they were worthy of accommodation.

The women we spoke to on the streets had particular concerns about hostels, especially about sharing a space with men, who they thought would be excessively drinking, taking drugs and causing trouble. Many experienced abuse in the past and they did not feel they could live with men they didn’t know.

People found homeless service applications unnecessarily complex and invasive. They felt they had to describe all of their traumatic life experiences in order to evidence that they were ‘worthy’ of a safe roof over their heads. In some cases, people felt they had been perceived as a ‘scrounger’, ‘loser’ and ‘feckless’ by others, especially by those in positions of power, who were making decisions about their accommodation.

Mayday’s Response

Mayday believes in creating environments where people are able to take maximum power and control over their lives. To achieve this organisations must adapt their culture; the language, systems, processes, staffing profiles and training. Task Teams can be used to listen to the people living in accommodation, research and develop internal transformative change.

9 of 10: Removing the labels

“I’m so scared of people finding out where I live, I walk home on my own after my evening class, just to avoid having to tell people and being judged.”

People talked about being reluctant to disclose where they lived to potential new friends, employers and services.

Whether perceived or real, people believed that they would be judged or stigmatised because they lived in a hostel or supported accommodation. Many felt humiliated or embarrassed to say that they were homeless. This presented yet another barrier for people to overcome and allow them to move forward with their lives.

Mayday’s Response

Mayday suggests removing all external physical signs that indicate that a property is supported housing. Using the previously mentioned PIE (Psychologically Informed Environments) training can ensure that properties do not become institutions. Instead, they are presented and operated as quality, affordable social housing. The walls can be filled with art and not negative posters. ‘Rules’ and restrictions are minimised in order to respect the rights and responsibilities of individuals.

Mayday recommends moving away from specific issue based accommodation, such as accommodation for offenders. We believe that this type of accommodation further stigmatises people. It extends the period that people are ‘labelled’ and often colludes with silo-based sector working e.g. ‘ex-offenders’ accommodation operated by the Criminal Justice sector. There is no evidence to demonstrate that housing offenders together delivers better outcomes than housing people directly into the community. In fact, the latter removes the stigma as people are not seen as ‘ex-offenders’ and are not in the company of other offenders. In addition, people can access personalised support while integrating back into the community.

8 of 10: The right advice

“Things got out of control. I lost the kids and I couldn’t pay my rent. I asked for help and they didn’t listen. What am I meant to do?”

What we heard time and time again was how the smallest of problems could spiral out of control. Often this was down to people being given the wrong advice or jumping to the wrong conclusion.

Most people found it difficult to navigate the housing system, with some people receiving misinformation or not being informed of their right to appeal decisions. Many failed to asked questions just because they didn’t want to make a fuss or because they felt that they wouldn’t be listened to.

Mayday’s Response

Building up good working relationships with local Citizens Advice services, law centres and other advice and advocacy centres can ensure people know where and how to get the best housing and benefit advice.

In addition to this, Mayday recommends maintaining regular contact with people before, during and after their transition into their new home. This means that people will feel supported and the lines of communication stay open, avoiding the escalation of day to day problems.

7 of 10: Treating people as people

“I’m scared that once I go into the system, I won’t come out. Instead I sleep on the night bus until I go to college in the morning. I look forward to college. It makes me feel normal.”

People told us that they wanted to feel normal. In some circumstances people were avoiding accessing services out of fear of becoming trapped and labeled. Staying on the streets or sofa-surfing was a way of clinging onto some form of normality.

What has been striking from both these conversations and those included in ‘Wisdom from the Street’, is the desire to feel normal. Yet the current system does the opposite, creating the powerless and hopeless ‘victim personae’. While the focus of many services has been to ‘empower’ by helping people gain confidence and self-belief, there is little recognition that these services are based on a system that continually focuses on weaknesses and deficits. By pathologising normal responses to trauma, people accessing these services are often left alienated and disenfranchised.

Mayday’s Response

Mayday believes there is an urgent need for a total change in the systems people experience when going through a tough time. Time must be spent unlearning what is currently perceived as good practice and, without being flippant, treat people as people.

The Mayday team have started to look at all the nuanced ways that we inadvertently dehumanise people. Changing the system can feel overwhelming, but we can start small – for example, swapping ‘Housing Assessments’ for ‘Housing Conversations’. The latter aims to move us from assessing whether we want to accommodate a person, to seeing if we have suitable accommodation for a person.

6 of 10: Positive connections

“I have no friends, my family aren’t allowed to see me, I don’t have a job, I don’t have money. I’m staying in my room looking at four walls. This isn’t living.”

As identified in the first Wisdoms, ‘Wisdom from the Street’*, relationships, connections and relational approaches are hugely important but complicated and personal to each of the people we spoke to.

What people told us on this subject varied; some wanted to get away from other ‘vulnerable’ people, whilst others benefitted from making friends. What was clear is that the majority of connections were driven by a need to survive, to avoid being a target and to stay safe, rather than genuine friendship.

Some people felt isolated and cut off from family and friends when housed out of their known area and in unfamiliar surroundings. In this situation gaining accommodation became a barrier between people and their support network, which had the potential to make their situation worse.

Mayday’s Response

Mayday recommends moving to smaller numbers of people sharing accommodation and where possible providing single-occupancy units. In bigger schemes people are introduced to their immediate neighbours, but communal activities are kept to a minimum as people are encouraged to socialise outside their accommodation and in the local community.

5 of 10: A human welcome

“I could have done with a plant in my room, just to make it personal, rather than processing me like a number.”

When asked how people felt when moving into supported accommodation many said they felt lonely and it was like living in an ‘empty shell’.

Moving into a new home is stressful, especially if you’re transitioning from being on the streets, so being alone in a new place with a sparsely furnished room can sometimes feel just as isolating. This transition from being homeless to moving into accommodation was a significant issue for the people who talked to us. It was important to feel welcomed and to have information both on the local area and who to contact in case things go wrong.

Mayday’s Response

People must feel welcome. This can be achieved by implementing a welcome protocol, which expects staff to make regular contact with the people they are working with before and after moving in and this can include going out for a coffee or lunch, in order to spend time getting to know the local area. A personalised Welcome Pack could also be created to share useful information regarding the accommodation and local area, and provide basic supplies.

The new protocol and Welcome Pack aims to make the transition into their new home as bearable as possible, reducing feelings of isolation and instead, making sure people feel welcome and in control of the situation.

4 of 10: Somewhere to call home

“I don’t want to be ungrateful but it’s like, when you trash your flat they fix it, make it nicer than before. But if you keep your head down and look after it, then you get nothing.”

We were told that by being given substandard housing people were left feeling worthless and insignificant.

Having a decent standard of accommodation, particularly when you have been through a tough time, is so important. Many people felt devalued and disrespected by the standard of their accommodation. Often those who looked after their accommodation felt ignored in comparison to people who disrespected and damaged their property. People also shared that they felt they couldn’t really question the suitability or standard of accommodation because they should just be grateful for what they were given.

 Mayday’s Response

Mayday recommends introducing a minimum standard for the quality of accommodation – WILT. The general principle we adopt is asking the question ‘Would I Live There?’

In addition, staff could be trained on the principles of PIE (Psychologically Informed Environments) so they understand the importance of the environment and what can make a positive difference for people. People could also be given the opportunity to apply for a personal budget to personalise their room.