Introducing a community approach to practice with homelessness and addiction

Ed Addison and Nathan Rosier

Ed Addison and Nathan Rosier

This blog is the third in a series of three by The People’s Recovery Project (TPRP), a charity building sustained recovery for people experiencing homelessness and addiction. As a follow up to their involvement in the HSCWRU Strengthening adult safeguarding responses to homelessness and self-neglect study, HSCWRU invited TPRP to facilitate an event at King’s.

This blog by TPRP co-founders Ed Addison and Nathan Rosier shares final messages from this event on re-thinking approaches to supporting people to move on from multiple exclusion homelessness (MEH), with a focus on building new communities.

Blog 3: A peer-led community – improving routes into residential treatment

As we continue to develop The People’s Recovery Project (TPRP) we emphasise the importance of a peer-led community in guiding and supporting our approach. In the previous blog in this series we heard from Danny, an active TPRP community member, about his experience of street homelessness, residential treatment and recovery from addiction. Danny’s story is an example of how getting the opportunity to access residential rehabilitation can contribute to individuals making huge and positive life changes. Despite the many obstacles faced by our community members experiencing MEH, Danny is not the only one who has managed to embark on a journey of recovery. Through building a peer-led community in recovery from homelessness and addiction, we are striving to create the conditions that will allow members to use their own experiences to demonstrate to those living on the streets that a permanent recovery from street homelessness is possible.

Experience from the streets

Over many years working on the street in homeless outreach services we often found people we came into contact with were contemplating reducing or stopping their drink or drug use. However, we were unable to provide opportunities to access appropriate treatment for their addiction. Often the primary objective of homelessness support work is to ensure that people are surviving, and not coming to serious harm.

It is important to highlight that in the street homeless community, as in other communities, people have an innate gravitational pull to be social. It means that on the streets, irrespective of the potential harms people may experience, or negative perceptions that some of the public hold, there undoubtedly exist mutually supportive and strong communities. As we – in homelessness services – would try to cobble together communities of recovery and sought to start conversations about the possibility of a life beyond the streets, those conversations inevitably led to the necessity of leaving old communities behind. This was at a time when people were at their most vulnerable. The connection to known environments and communities is strong and therefore change is difficult. Added to that, services may not respond in a flexible and timely manner, so windows of opportunity to elicit change for individuals are often missed.

Recovery Focus

In order to understand the potential to build sustained recovery for people it is important to understand what recovery means to different people. Our event at King’s gave us insight from a wide variety of stakeholders who have worked in, and accessed, services across the homelessness and substance misuse sectors. We explored with participants what recovery means to them; the following are some of the thoughts expressed:

Recovery is an individual process, it is not something that can be imposed externally”

“Moving from that place of day-to-day survival into fulfilling activities in life”

“It is not an A to B journey, it is lifelong”

“Recovery is about reattaching yourself into mainstream society, trusting yourself to attach, and just because you are going back in it is not necessarily an acknowledgement that society is okay”.

Although recovery can be articulated in a multitude of ways, through all descriptions run the themes of connection, belonging and purpose. Following the event we conducted focus groups in treatment services throughout the country with people who have been through residential treatment. The more we explored what recovery means to those who have lived experience, the more we realised that it means building new communities and new social and support connections. As one individual who had been through residential treatment said,

“When it comes to people who are recovering from active addiction, connection is never more important than when it is with other people in recovery or with people who have experienced some form of active addiction, recovery or trauma. You don’t feel shame, you feel connection. Once you break the cycle of isolation, shame and guilt you start to see. I came from a place of hopelessness and now all I see is hope.”

Building an alternative community

We can count on two hands the number of people we have known, over the last 10 years of homelessness outreach practice, who have been able to access residential treatment services and exit their reliance on homelessness services. We know that chaotic drug and alcohol use can lead to prolonged episodes of street homelessness, to significant health issues as a result of living on the streets, and in many cases to untimely and preventable deaths. Our vision is an approach that treats the causes of people’s addiction earlier, to prevent people experiencing repeat and chronic street homelessness. We know that residential treatment will not be the right course for everyone experiencing homelessness and addiction – but for many people on the streets this option has the potential to be a hugely positive intervention.

The People’s Recovery Project is building a community of individuals who have managed to make permanent exits from a reliance on homelessness services and are now living lives in sustained recovery. This community is driven by a desire to use their learning from their own journeys to inform and prepare others who have yet to go to residential treatment. And following episodes of residential treatment, to hold individuals in this recovery community long term, providing a consistent space for sharing ideas and knowledge in a mutually supportive environment that promotes individual and community wellbeing. This community has the potential to influence recovery opportunities while improving the intersection between homelessness and recovery services. It can bring hope to people in desperate situations that a different way of living is possible, and in doing so support a reduction in the number of people who are dying homeless and due to drug related causes.

We would like to thank Jess Harris and HSCWRU at King’s College London for the opportunity to bring people together to support the development of this approach. And a further thank you to all those who participated in the event and focus groups – collective knowledge has the power to change the world – thank you for your contributions.

Ed Addison and Nathan Rosier are co-founders of The People’s Recovery Project.

Earlier blogs in this three-part series:

Blog 1: Improving routes into sustained recovery for people experiencing street homelessness: introducing The People’s Recovery Project

Blog 2: A community approach to safer working practice with homelessness and addiction: an individual experience informing The People’s Recovery Project

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