With the council putting together a rough sleepers strategy we at The Synergy Centre felt it was imperative to gather the thoughts of the rough sleeping community as we believe it is they that know best as to how to go about improving the current situation. The rough sleepers team at The Synergy Centre conducted a consultation exercise with the aim of seeking the rough sleepers thoughts on six different topics relevant to the strategy. We also wanted to find out about what The Synergy Centre could do to help empower and support the rough sleeping community.
We held the consultation over two days, reaching out to over thirty different rough sleepers. Not only did we hold the consultation, we also provided new clothes, toiletries, food provided by Real Junk Food Project and there were even a few haircuts.
The actual consultations were two hours long each and we split the members into groups to answer a total of six questions. We then reconvened and fed back the findings to the group as a whole and discussed issues that came up.
Below are the findings we obtained from each of the consultation’s six questions:
What do you feel are the reasons for becoming homeless?
The results to this were strong, nearly everybody responded to this question. The answers were not too much of a surprise. The main reasons are relationship breakdowns (either with family or partner), poor physical and mental health and addiction. In many cases it is a combination of all these reasons. However, it is worth mentioning a few less obvious answers: fleeing domestic violence (both adults and also as children), debt and loss of jobs were also common reasons. One other popular answer was “the revolving door of prison”; some who use prison as a way off the street and some who had nowhere to go on release from prison. The same can be said for the people leaving Mill View onto the streets without any support.
Pie chart showing the percentage of each reason
As a community do you feel listened to?
You would probably expect that the majority of the rough sleeping community would say that they do not feel listened to, but interestingly this is not the case. Although there were a few people who felt that the council and government did not listen to them, the majority did feel listened to at least by charities, churches and service providers. Big Issue sellers particularly felt listened to by the general public, but said that it depended upon the area in the city in which they choose to sell.
“The Big Issue acts as a barrier breaking process, meaning people listen more or less depending on the area.”
“Service providers yes, St Mungo’s yes, Synergy yes and Council no.”
“Do I feel listened to? No I feel looked down on like I don’t matter.”
Graph of findings
If you could create any services what would they be?
Results to this question were quite varied, though there were a couple that came up the most. The main type of service wanted was employment and emotional support, someone who could help to get his or her voice across and offer guidance/sign-posting; they talked a lot about peer support and mentoring.
Another desired service that came up over and over was a service that facilitated a place to meet friends and socialise, not as a means to an end but purely as an end. This place would also have facilities to cook, clean and get out of extreme weather. They mentioned what they call “Suicide Sunday” due to having no services open for them to use. On the whole, they wanted a service that is accessible 24 hours a day where they can socialise and access everyday facilities.
I think that the common denominator throughout the response to this question has been emotional guidance and a place to socialise. They also mentioned classes and training, free washing and empty buildings being brought to use.
What do you think the public perception is of the rough sleeping community?
The answers to this were very different from one another. The most common answer is quite positive, saying that they felt the public were empathetic. However the remainder of answers were all very different from one another, but what they all had in common was that the general public thought negatively of them. A few that I would like to bring to attention are: “Many don’t understand, misconception, labelled drink and drug users. Reality; I am a human being” another is “They think it’s a joke, and that it needs to get sorted, but some think they deserve to be there”. Whilst the consultation was running, a member of the public wanted to mention their perception of the homeless and wrote, “As a member of the public I feel frustrated by the situation. How can I help? I know I can help with immediate things but what about the bigger picture.”
If you combine all the negative opinions together and compare them with the positive ones, then the results look very different. The overwhelming majority feel that the public perception is of a negative nature.
Think about your needs… Can you prioritise your top three most important needs?
The most obvious answer to this question was housing. However, this was not the case for all the rough sleepers’ answers. Basic needs like access to food and provisions, a secure site to sleep out, rapid access to mental health services, jobs, relationships, community integration (see below), washing facilities and toilets, a place to meet and socialise. Another key answer that came up a lot was the need for someone to help them help themselves – services as they stand are missing this element. Community integration is interesting, as there is a strong disconnection between the rough sleeping community and the general public – people tend to project their opinions onto them. This creates a divide between the housed and unhoused. As mentioned in some of the other questions, “the rough sleeping community are humans too” – it is important to include them and treat their opinions with respect. The rough sleepers’ call out for a voice may well stem from this disconnection from the general public.
The Synergy Centre are planning on creating a rough sleepers advocacy service. What services would you like to see us providing?
The Synergy Centre have been thinking of starting an advocacy service in the not too distant future. Following the ethos of the organisation, we felt it was fundamental that we provide a service that is founded upon ideas that come from the rough sleepers themselves. We are not projecting our opinion on what we think is good for them, but what they want from us.
The top results were for a service that provides emotional support, practical advice and pointing people in the right direction for help and support around specific problems they are having. The second most important service that they wanted from The Synergy Centre was someone that would speak out for the homeless community. Another popular answer related to teaching skills that will enable them to help themselves. The last noticeable answer was a place to feel homely, particularly on Sundays (see above).
Becoming homeless is mainly due to the breakdown in relationships, suggesting that providing emotional support and guidance is a key need that needs addressing. Once rough sleepers arereceiving this form of support, a platform can be built to help address the other main causes: poor health (both physical and mental) and drug and alcohol related issues. “Suicide Sunday” came up several times, which highlights the need for support on a Sunday.
The evidence suggests that rough sleepers feel that the public feel disconnected from them, but that a lot of people care and want to help. By providing a voice for the rough sleeping community, it could be possible to break down these barriers with the public and doing so would empower the rough sleepers.
The Synergy Centre’s idea of an advocacy service was very well received and it was very clear what form that it should take. The rough sleeping community would like emotional and practical support and someone that can act as a voice for them. They also need a place to go to get out of the weather or just to get together and socialise and to support one another. On top of this, they need free washing facilities, clothes, food, tea, coffee and toilets.
This consultation exercise has shown us where to concentrate our future efforts to help this community to survive and flourish and, most importantly, to reduce rough sleeping.