Capturing the true scale of homelessness in Leicester

Yesterday I was asked to present an example of my public engagement work to a small group of academics and third sector workers to demonstrate how university and community partnership working can create impact. From my list of recent activities I chose the work #DMUlocal did with Professor Jo Richardson, a housing researcher, from the Faculty of Business and Law, to try to measure the true scale of homelessness in Leicester and thought I should share it here.

The Project:

I felt it was a good example of how De Montfort University (DMU) had worked with a leading charity and other agencies to capture the true scale of homelessness in Leicester and how best to tackle it – and its impact led to almost 40 people off the streets and into accommodation.

Mark Grant, CEO of Action Homeless, briefs volunteers and students at DMU

Academics and public engagement staff worked with Action Homeless to launch the End European Homelessness Campaign (EEHC) in the city and used the findings to inform policies on rough sleeping, develop interventions and make recommendations to tackle the problem.  

The project brought together expertise from the university, police, local authorities, social housing and charities to try to reduce homelessness.

A homelessness survey and parallel street count, run with more than 80 student volunteers from DMU, and others, overnight across 18 zones mapped across Leicester.

The data gathered, based on the international EEHC survey gave an accurate picture of homelessness in the city for the first time. All previous indications used by city authorities had been based on estimates.

Each homeless person identified was interviewed with a set list of questions that gave insight in to their demographic profile, their history of housing and homelessness, where they slept and how they got by.

Students and local agencies worked through the night visiting known homeless ‘hotspots’

Interviewees were offered further support and help to find accommodation – 39 people were subsequently helped into housing, 17 of them into permanent accommodation.

The research was analysed by Professor of Housing and Social Research, Jo Richardson, to create a detailed report which was disseminated amongst city leaders, local agencies and the public.

The conclusions and recommendations led to far-reaching impacts on how rough sleeping is tackled in Leicester, resulting in people being taken off the streets, an increase in funding to support the homeless, extra provision of beds and a major contribution to the formation of Leicester’s first ever Homelessness Charter.

Background:

Planning for the research project began in September 2017 when the university and Action Homeless agreed to lead a range of agencies to research the true scale of homelessness in Leicester and undertake the End European Homelessness Campaign.

The university wanted to improve the plight of the homeless in the city through the work of its public engagement team, #DMUlocal and Professor of Housing and Social Research and Director of the Centre for Comparative Housing Research, Jo Richardson.

The homelessness survey formed part of a planned ‘Connections Week’ in early November 2017 which also saw homelessness professionals and DMU volunteers visiting day centres and hostels to speak to people who had experienced rough sleeping in the last six months. 

Mandatory training for connections week was given at the university for all volunteers to ensure ethical issues, boundaries, safety and other factors were understood and adhered to.

The survey used the European End Street Homelessness Survey which has been used across several European cities to enable further research and comparison.  

The week’s main event was a city-wide street count on the night of November 7th 2017 (between 12am and 3am) run with student volunteers, agency professionals.  More than 100 volunteers covered an area of approximately three square miles split into 18 zones. The teams used existing knowledge and intelligence to survey well known “hot spots” including car parks and other secluded areas. 

Key dates in the project were the planning, from September 2017, Connections Week and Survey in November 2017. The Diocese of Leicester launched Leicester’s Homelessness Charter in November 2018.

As the agencies and volunteers gave time for free, the initial survey costs were low. Over the year, the university invested around £2,000 in the associated homelessness projects to cover issues like transport, volunteer training costs and DBS checks. 

Outcomes:

The aim of the research was to work with city partners to use the university’s research expertise and student volunteers to findnew ways to end rough sleeping.  

The immediate impact of the research identified a series of findings, conclusions and recommendations that have helped people off the streets and informed local agencies on how the problem how might be addressed.

Ninety-three homeless people were surveyed in Leicester across Connections Week in November 2017 – kick-starting a new era of fresh thinking in the city.

The information gathered created powerful data to inform policy and debate. It included: 

  • Eight-three of those surveyed were male. Ten female respondents.
  • The majority were from the UK and showed medium to high vulnerability scores.
  • The commonest answer in response to the question on where people slept (48 respondents) was ‘outdoors’.
  • The survey found homeless people in Leicester face multiple and complex physical health, mental health and substance use issues.
  • Forty percent of respondents replied that their homelessness had followed a traumatic experience.

Ongoing support has been given to those surveyed and other rough sleepers who have come to the city.

A subsequent audit of the named list gained during the November 2017 Connections week showed 39 were helped into housing, 17 into permanent accommodation.

The needs analysis gathered from the survey informed Leicester’s Rough Sleeper Initiative which won £265,000 Government funding for 2018/19 to fund a new council-based homelessness team and fund 20 additional accommodation spaces.

In the winter of 2018/19, 80 people were supported off the city streets.

The research concluded that longer term solutions need to be found for those in a cycle of passing through hostels and back to the streets.

Recommendations included: 

  • Partner agencies continue to work together to maintain momentum 
  • Partners work with the social housing sector to trial a new model of housing provision 
  • Partners use the media to get positive messages out and demystify and destigmatise homelessness
  • Research to focus on issues related to behaviours and preferences, and examine why people may be returning to the streets even where an alternative is offered.  
  • Further research on issues of loneliness and disconnection, culture and community, is needed.

Other information:

Details of the End European Street Homelessness Campaign in Leicester can be found here: http://actionhomeless.org.uk/eshleicester/

An overview of the count and its findings can be found here: https://www.dmu.ac.uk/about-dmu/news/2017/november/street-survey-report-reveals-shocking-homelessness-statistics1.aspx

The Leicester report compiled by DMU can be found here: https://www.dora.dmu.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/2086/16047/End%20Street%20Homelessness%20in%20Leicester%20Report%20Nov%202017.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

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