Is Homelessness developing its own recovery agenda?

Wednesday, 25 July 2018 - 10:17am

Could we be seeing a shift towards a recovery agenda within the homelessness sector? 

woman looking stressed

At Homeless Link, we’re currently looking at the different approaches services take towards supporting the people they work with. In particular strength-based approaches, trauma-informed care, psychologically informed environments and co-production are increasingly being applied to services across the country. Could we be seeing a shift towards a recovery agenda within the homelessness sector?

Everyone in the homelessness sector aims to ensure the people who use their service move forwards to positive futures. However, there is a significant amount of variation between how we approach this.

Some services have a very strong ethos or set of principles that guide the work that they do. Others do excellent work without any particular written statements – they developed shared ethos through actions rather than words.

There’s no right way of doing this. What is interesting, however, is that the sector seems to be in a process of flux. Speaking to services all around the country, many are in the process of re-thinking their approach or even writing it down for the first time.

Why this shift? To an extent, this reflects the political climate – from a time in which organisations were often well funded but with clear conditions on delivery to a time when funding is more interested in what is achieved than how this is done. As a sector, we are free to re-think the way that we work - sometimes we have little choice when money is tight.

In this climate, several ideas have begun to take hold which have in common a focus on strengths, resilience and positive futures. Could we be described as moving towards a recovery agenda? A shift that has influenced the substance misuse sector so much in the past 10 years. 

Places of Change agenda 

In the past, we have supported people into housing and encouraged them to address any support needs. We hoped people would move towards a stable lifestyle but didn’t ground this as a defined approach. The Places of Change agenda from 2004 recognised the importance of empowering people; encouraging interests and aspirations in order to make positive changes. Fantastic work was undertaken but few placed this within a specific framework such as ‘strength-based work’ or recovery.

In recent years, engagement with ‘recovery’ approaches has become more explicit and sophisticated. More than ever, we believe that people can and should fully recover from homelessness, move on and lead fulfilling lives. The focus is increasingly on discovering interests and building community networks and links that will enable people to fully integrate into their local areas.

Substance misuse may be a coping mechanism – but people who are using substances are often involved in an entire world of substance use. A world with its own jobs, language, own definitions of success and failure and its own community. When someone removes a substance from their life, they can suddenly find themselves without a sense of belonging – everything that they understood about the world and all the connections are gone. This is a loss that is hard to bear and can lead to feelings of isolation and relapse.

Homelessness is a little different (and of course there is often crossover between those experiencing homelessness and substance use). If we are going to remove someone from the world that they know, whether that is rough sleeping or substance use, they will need a new world within which to belong.

Share your approach

A few of the ideas that have influenced us in recent years are strength-based approaches, trauma-informed care, psychologically informed environments and co-production.  All of these approaches are centred on the idea of recovery –aiming to empower, build confidence and social capital. We are increasingly recognising that people find it easiest to move on with their lives when they have started to rediscover what they enjoy and what is important to them. In doing so, they develop a new language, new connections and eventually a whole new world to belong in. This builds resilience and makes recovery (and a happy life) both more desirable and more possible.

Have these, or other approaches influenced your work? Get in touch to share your approach to working with people. Whether you subscribe to a specific approach, have your own or none, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact

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Vicky Album

Vicky Album

Strengths-based practice lead

Vicky is a National Practice Practice Project Manager leading on our strengths-based practice work and co-delivering the London Plus Project.