#EveryoneInForGood – researching the impact on people sleeping rough

Monday, 27 July 2020 - 1:09pm

John Harrison from Impact Limited, explains the unique research he was able to carry out after Riverside were asked to manage provision for 1,000 people sleeping rough and living in emergency accommodation in hotels, at the Holiday Inn Express Manchester East.

When the Minister for Local Government and Homelessness wrote to local authorities asking them to urgently accommodate all rough sleepers as part of the COVID-19 lockdown across the country, Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) announced it would spend £5 million in order to house 1,000 people sleeping rough and living in emergency accommodation in hotels. Riverside (one of the country’s largest providers of supported accommodation) was asked to manage provision at the Holiday Inn Express Manchester East.

This unique and unprecedented approach provided an opportunity for a unique piece of research to look at the impact this provision would have on people sleeping rough. It would also provide Riverside (and the wider sector) with insights into how we might tackle rough sleeping in the future.

We had clear aims and ambitions with the research but it was important we acted quickly to make the most of a unique opportunity and capture valuable insights. The approach we took to do so contained elements of ‘formative evaluation’ and ‘action research’. Working with Riverside as an independent researcher, I adopted a methodology involving simultaneous action and research leading to critical reflection that could inform meaningful responses. We had to contend with being in lockdown and social distancing, but this would enable us to capture information before the moment passed while applying the learning to a project which was evolving every day.

My experience of conducting the research, in itself, emphasised the impact of the provision. I have interviewed people who have slept rough on many occasions for Riverside; it can be challenging and, usually, requires a variety of techniques and approaches. This time, residents were more relaxed, responsive, reflective and cogent than any sample of people sleeping rough I have interviewed in the past.

There were 7 key learning points from the first phase of the research which has now been published. These elaborate on what was different about the hotels, including the staffing, the numbers of people staying there, the role of other services beyond accommodation and the impact of lockdown on use of time. For me, there are two broader reflections linked to the two aims we set out to explore:

1. The impact on residents is significant. It varies across individuals, but living in the hotel had been a transformative and overwhelmingly positive experience for all residents we interviewed. Physical and mental health has improved, dependency issues have been addressed and support structures have been established or improved.  Most importantly, people entrenched in rough sleeping can now envisage a future indoors and the experience has engendered a positive outlook for the future. Finally, and contrary to early concerns, no residents have contracted Covid-19.

2. There are many (and significant) learning points. The project does raise interesting questions around the nature of existing provision, providing larger scale accommodation (in terms of capacity) and the way impact can be enhanced by a motivated, coherent and less bureaucratic response from Government, partners, funders and stakeholders.

It is important to note that the research isn’t complete. We will be conducting follow up interviews and further analysis in the next couple of months. At this stage, we are reluctant to draw conclusions or make recommendations. By late summer / early autumn, we hope to have a longer view of how people’s journeys have developed. Alongside other analysis, the aim is that this can contribute not just to understanding what the response should be to COVID, but draw strong lessons about how we “build back better” across all homelessness and supported housing services.

The interim report, an executive summary and interviews with residents can be found at https://www.riverside.org.uk/manchester-emergency-accommodation-evaluation/, along with a series of short videos capturing participants stories of rough sleeping before and during COVID-19.

We are running a webinar on Wednesday 29th July: What can we learn for supported housing long term from the Covid-19 emergency hotel provision? with Riverside Housing Group, who will join us to share their new independent research reviewing the impact and learnings of delivering supported accommodation at one of the emergency hotels during the covid-19 lockdown.