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As the number of people rough sleeping continues to climb and services facing more barriers to getting people the support they need, the picture in the homelessness sector often feels daunting. But across the country, there are amazing teams making a real difference for people pushed to the margins of society.

Recently we had the pleasure to speak to one standout example, the Exeter Navigation “Navigator” Team, winners of the Homeless Link Excellence Awards 2023 and speakers at the Rough Sleeping Conference 2024, about how they’re supporting people facing severe multiple disadvantage in Exeter.

The Navigators, are a multi-disciplinary team specialising in housing, mental health, and substance misuse, guided by MEAM principles. Their service is person-centred and trauma-informed, tailored to individuals experiencing severe and multiple disadvantage due to their exclusion from mainstream services and systemic barriers to recovery. They prioritise building a single, trusting therapeutic relationship, providing non-conditional, long-term support aligned with each individual's recovery journey, in line with the cycle of change theory. As summed up by one team member “We do not walk away.”

Since the team consolidated within its current configuration in March 2021, they have established a city-wide reputation as the team most able to engage individuals where options are severely restricted. Local substance misuse team lead, Richard Jones, summed up their approach:

The Navigators do things differently to most. They are alongside the client for as long as is needed and can support them with a wide variety of personal aspirations. For a group of very complex clients this Team has provided the continuity and compassionate care they need to flourish.

With this personalised approach, the team has celebrated a number of successful recovery journeys for individuals who had experienced lifetimes of trauma and social exclusion and who had effectively lost hope. One particularly impactful initiative has been the Individual Budget Fund, which empowers the team to make purchases on behalf of those they support. For instance, recently when a rough sleeping client transitioned into supported accommodation, he purchased some meat, enabling him to prepare a communal meal for fellow residents. Small steps such as these can make a huge difference.


Case study: Andrew’s story

Andrew, a 59-year-old former stonemason, faced homelessness in Exeter for five years after losing his housing due to rental arrears. Initially supported by a local charity, his relationship with them deteriorated over time and COVID-19 worsened his situation, leading to his referral to the Exeter Navigator team.

Andrew, vocal about homeless rights, was critical of homeless hostels due to feeling oppressed and refused to pay service charge leaving him with limited accommodation options. His distrust extended to medical support, though a personal connection with a nurse helped him access care.

Through frequent casual interactions on outreach and a drop-in provision at the CoLab, the Navigators team became an important point of contact for Andrew, building a relationship with him to meet his growing support needs.

Triggered by a fellow rough sleeper's death, Andrew sought stability and started planning for the future, securing temporary accommodation before moving his own flat as part of the Next Steps Accommodation Programme. He is now staying in his house, engaging with planned health treatment and thinking about reconnecting with his family.


But the impact of The Navigators extends beyond individual transformations. As agents of system change, they challenge the very barriers that impede progress for those they serve. By advocating for a more strengths-based discourse and promoting trauma-informed approaches, they have also been reshaping the landscape of service provision.

Over time we have noticed iterative progress in a number of areas, perhaps most importantly in curating a more "strength-based" discourse, when clients experiencing severe multiple disadvantage are discussed for emergency and supported accommodation options. We have also noticed trauma-informed language and approaches becoming more standardised in commissioning specifications and recruitment narratives.

Reflecting on their journey, Rob Fenwick, Navigator Project Lead, acknowledges the significance of winning the Homeless Link Excellence Award:

Winning the award has proven to be a significant milestone in the team's evolution and a validation for team members that our approach is recognised as valuable by other experts in the field.

Since their win, The Navigators have continued championing a person-centred and trauma-informed approach in Exeter. Recently, they opened a 5-bed house to accommodate men and women from their cohort. The house is imbued with the team's values, so the experience is as “at home” as possible, free of rules and regulations for residents to trip over. With a "high tolerance" approach, the aim is to address problematic behaviour through collaborative solutions, empowering residents to take ownership of the space.

The unwavering support provided by the Exeter Navigation “Navigator” Team exemplifies the transformative impact achievable in both individual lives and broader service provision when we take a trauma-informed and strengths-based approach and do not walk away.