There has been a recent push for increased involvement and value of the perspectives and experiences of those with lived experience of homelessness. Peer Mentoring is something easily talked about but rarely put into action. In this blog, we describe how we have worked with people who have lived experience of homelessness to co-create a successful peer mentor programme.
OutcomeHome (OCH) is a not for profit social enterprise based in Southampton providing psychological and peer services specifically for homeless people and others who are multiply excluded. Meaningful co-production of services with those who have lived experiences of homelessness is key to OCH’s values. The peer mentoring project has been in development since 2017, beginning with conversations with people with lived experience and learning from the existing literature on peer programmes to develop and test ideas about what makes a peer intervention effective (Barker & Maguire, 2017; Barker, Maguire, Bishop, & Stopa, 2018). Through repeated meetings and discussions, we collaboratively developed initial training materials
The peer programme was then piloted within the homeless pathways in Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council. An important aspect to this project is the context. Firstly and most importantly, key stakeholders value lived experience, evidenced by the consistent presence of experts by experience at multiple strategic and operational meetings resulting in meaningful co-production. Secondly, the Council hold a quarterly Social Inclusion Partnership meeting, bringing together key partners who are affected by and impact on homelessness. Thirdly, the Council is a partner in Making Every Adult Matter (MEAM), a coalition of national charities (Clinks, Homeless Link, and Mind) working together to develop effective, coordinated services that improve the lives of those who face multiple disadvantage. MEAM defines people facing multiple disadvantage as people experiencing a combination of problems including homelessness, substance misuse, contact with the criminal justice system, and mental ill health (MEAM, 2018).
Psychologically Informed Peer Mentoring Model
Our theoretical model of peer mentorship describes a specific type, where the peer is clearly more advanced than the client (evidenced by their stability regarding housing, addiction recovery, and/or mental illness recovery) and then utilises their lived experience to help mentor clients at different stages of the homeless pathway. Importantly, the development of the peer model was from a psychological perspective, identifying literature that describes the underlying psychological processes that are present in effective peer mentoring and building our practical model upon those concepts (see Barker et al., 2020).
In practice, the peer model is built upon the development and progression of the peers themselves. They are the key to the programme being a success. The peers have regular individual and group supervision and regular reflective practice with a psychologist. While there is a lot of support for the peers, we would argue that this is generally good practice for all service providers. We all come to this work with different levels of lived, living, or learned experience. Further, we all have different vulnerabilities and it is good practice to ensure that we are aware of our own biases and are able to reflect to our reactions in difficult situations to avoid burnout and compassion fatigue.
Impacts of Peer Mentoring
Data has shown that clients working with the peers have reductions in their alcohol and drug use, decreased feelings of depression and anxiety. Additionally, the peers have helped to prevent evictions, support clients during transitions from street to hostel, and transitions to secondary supported accommodation.
The peers have also benefitted from helping others. We have seen the peers’ confidence levels increase during their work. The peers consistently report that they find this work fulfilling and they love this work.
It’s not all roses though. Turnover can be quite high. There is ongoing consideration for interpersonal conflicts. Not everyone is going to get along or damaging power structures in groups can develop, which needs to be monitored. We have found that having regular group meetings and conversations has helped to manage interpersonal conflict. We have all worked hard to create and honest, open, and supportive culture, but it takes work to maintain. We have flexibility for people taking time off, almost every peer has taken time off to manage personal issues and we all offer support to cope with these instances. A practice that we would argue is one that should be standard practice for working with people, not only those with specific lived experience.
Looking to the Future
As we carry on, one thing is certain – the peer programme will continue to evolve and change as the peers, clients, and staff reflect on it. We will continue to encourage the peers in their personal growth and move into the next stage of their lives as we recruit more peers.
Barker, S. L., Bishop, F. L., Scott, E. B., Stopa, L. L., & Maguire, N. J. (2020). Developing a Model of Change Mechanisms within Intentional Unidirectional Peer Support (IUPS). European Journal of Homelessness. Volume, 14(2). https://www.feantsaresearch.org/public/user/Observatory/2020/EJH/Feantsa-Int_2019-14-2_RN1_v02.pdf
Barker, S. L., & Maguire, N. J. (2017). Experts by experience: Peer support and its use with the homeless. Community Mental Health Journal. doi: 10.1007/s10597-017-0102-2
Barker, S. L., Maguire, N., Bishop, F. L., & Stopa, L. (2018). Critical elements of peer support and the experience of peer-supporters helping the homeless: A qualitative study. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 1-17. doi: 10.1002/casp.2353
Barker, S. L., Maguire, N. J., Bishop, F.L., & Stopa, L. (2018). The Feasibility of Conducting Research on the Effectiveness of Intentional Unidirectional Peer Support with a Homeless Population. Manuscript in press. European Journal of Homelessness.
MEAM. (2018). MEAM Approach. http://meam.org.uk/ Retrieved August 20, 2020.
Moran, G. S., et al. (2012). "Benefits and Mechanisms of Recovery Among Peer Providers With Psychiatric Illnesses." Qualitative Health Research 22(3): 304-319.