Research into practice

Victoria Tischler
looks at research on a resettlement service for homeless and vulnerable
families in Leicester, one of few UK services of its type.

Leicester Council’s
housing department has developed a resettlement service for homeless and
vulnerable families with partners including Sure Start. Research by the
University of Leicester’s department of child and adolescent psychiatry
examines housing problems experienced by families in the context of developing
the new role of family outreach support worker.

The Beaumont Leys
Independent Support Service (Bliss) was established to support single people
aged between 16 and 25, and families with children up to the age of 16, with
housing problems in the Beaumont Leys area of Leicester, which has a large
number of vacant properties and high turnover rates.

Two groups of
participants included one from hostels for homeless families and one of
recently rehoused families served by the Bliss team.

A key feature has
been the use of research findings to develop the service from the start, rather
than merely evaluate it, taking account of the qualitative views of homeless

Key findings are:

– The homeless group
expressed high levels of unmet need regarding housing and resettlement issues,
whereas the rehoused families’ needs – though similar – were met by Bliss.  

– There was a high
level of satisfaction with the Bliss interventions. Families appreciated the
holistic nature of the service that responded to a wide range of needs.

– This comprehensive,
needs-based and open-ended support has proved a real incentive to homeless
families, reversing the trend of moving out of the unpopular Beaumont Leys area.

– The service is
based in a shop front in a local shopping centre, which has made it readily
accessible to families housed in the area. Flyers also proved valuable in
spreading information about the service.

With most research in
this area coming from the US and very little from the UK, this research has
proved to be truly innovative.   

Services need to show
they are effective in addressing consistently empty properties in unpopular
areas. Working with people from unsettled backgrounds, often with a history of
violence and mental ill-health, they also need to be flexible and driven by needs.

Homeless families
tend to be “invisible”. Unlike homeless teenagers who are often based on the
streets, families are housed out of sight in hostel and bed and breakfast
accommodation, and we have been slow to recognise the kind of services they

Across the country
there are the diametrically opposed problems of homelessness and vacant
properties in “undesirable” areas. However, this is no longer the case in
Leicester because of a concerted effort by the housing department to address
issues of low demand by introducing neighbourhood nuisance teams and supported
housing schemes, for example. The city has seen a notable increase in demand
for social housing as more people are applying to the council register.

The Bliss team offers
incentives such as decorating and furniture grants, budgeting advice, and even
education for young mothers. All this contributes towards making the properties
in which families are rehoused feel more like their own homes, and keeps them
in touch with the caring services they have come to trust.

Homelessness crosses
generations: many mothers remember being in hostels with their own mothers. It
is important to break this cycle. The perception that a needs-based service is
expensive is a short-term view that does not take into account the costs
associated with homelessness – health, housing and social – that are already
being borne by society.

– The report, A
Resettlement Service for Homeless and Vulnerable Parents
, is available from
the department of child and adolescent psychiatry, Greenwood Institute,
Westcotes Drive, Leicester, LE3 0QU

Victoria Tischler is
a research associate, University of Leicester.

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