Building Connection Against the Odds: Exploring the Relationship Between Project Workers and People Experiencing Homelessness
In the past decade homelessness has dramatically increased in the UK, against a backdrop of austerity (National Audit Office, 2017), with those working to support people experiencing homelessness (PEH) battling to build relationships with limited resources (Daly, 2017). Existing literature suggests that trusting and empathic relationships between workers and PEH forms the cornerstone for the needs of PEH to be met (Stevenson et al, 2014; Kidd et al, 2006). However, PEH also highlighted that relationships with services were often characterised by conditionality and disconnection (Westaway, Nolte & Brown, 2017). In order to better understand this context, this study aimed to explore project workers’ experiences of building relationships with PEH. A qualitative design was employed in which focus groups were carried out in six projects, using an opportunity sample of 22 project workers. Data was analysed using Thematic Analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006), within a Social Constructionist epistemology (Burr, 1995). Three main themes were identified: ‘Working hard to build connection,’ ‘Supporting each other within an unsupportive context’ and ‘Draining but sustaining.’ The findings of the study highlighted that project workers strove to build connection despite the odds, that connection with each other was used to counter systemic disconnection. They illustrate that project workers were driven by a strong value base, despite a challenging context. Clear clinical implications are put forward. Services supporting PEH need to be psychologically informed and project workers need to be provided with a reflective space in order to process complex relational dynamics and pressures, which can only happen with adequate funding. In deriving service provision for PEH interdependence not in/ dependence needs to be the aim (Williamson, 2018). The potential role of clinical psychologists in relation to these clinical implications is highlighted throughout. Finally, the responsibility for improving the lives of PEH needs to be placed back on society to provide a context in which PEH can thrive.
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