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New Research Highlights the Role of Temporary Accommodation in Perpetuating Homelessness

Recently published research which examines the nature and design of temporary accommodation services in Belfast and their use by the chronic homeless has highlighted that for some, the experience can lead to further marginalisation.

Lynne McMordie carried out this research. She has worked in the homeless sector in Northern Ireland since 2003 and was the first intern appointed under the I-SPHERE / Oak Foundation Internship Programme. She is due to commence a PhD with the I-SPHERE team at Heriot-Watt University, on the design, use, and impacts of temporary and supported accommodation models for homeless households in the United Kingdom. 

This research will be of interest to all those working in the homeless sector in Northern Ireland and beyond. It is particularly timely given the ongoing work to develop a Chronic Homeless Strategy and Action Plan for Northern Ireland.

Key points from Chronic Homelessness and Temporary Accommodation Placement in Belfast research: 

  • There is a sub-group within the Northern Ireland’s homeless population whose experience is marked by recurring temporary accommodation placements, episodes of rough sleeping and other forms of homelessness. This has led to increasing concerns regarding the effectiveness of current service provision in the resolution and mitigation of homelessness for those with more complex needs.

  • Existing evidence suggests that the marginalisation of homeless people with complex needs can occur at every stage along the continuum of service provision. This can be at point of access, placement, and stay - and that this process of marginalisation is further compounded by each “failure” to achieve independent living.

  • Service users described multiple experiences of actual harm and loss within the temporary accommodation setting – including violence, intimidation, theft, and exploitation – and described hostel and shelter accommodation as holding a constant risk of potential harm.

  • Service users adopted a range of coping strategies to mitigate the stresses of hostel living, which include: covert, muting and avoidance behaviours. They suggested that living in hostel accommodation necessitates and enables the use of these strategies, yet also punishes people for adopting them via eviction and refusal of access.

  • Service users described the consequences of exclusion and eviction as being highly impactful; most often leading to episodes of rough sleeping, with an associated deterioration in physical and mental health, increased contact with the criminal justice system, and significant experiences of victimisation and self-harm. These experiences were described as compounding existing traumas and - by extension - as amplifying the factors which render hostel living problematic and distressing in the first instance.

  • Re-entry to the hostel system following a period of rough sleeping, was often described as being crisis-driven, interim in nature, or caveated with additional rules and expectations. As such, each “failure” to sustain a temporary accommodation placement exacerbates the circumstances associated with that failure in the first instance, effectively creating a self-perpetuating cycle of repeat placement breakdown.

  • The experience of prolonged and cyclical homelessness was described as reducing the potential for tenancy sustainment where more permanent forms of accommodation are accessed, with the institutionalising impact of hostel and shelter accommodation often diminishing independent living skills, eroding support networks, and increasing feelings of isolation at point of move-on.

  • Although key informants and services users both suggested that the key contributory factors to chronic homelessness are most often to be located in operational, strategic and structural dynamics, many suggested that responses to these failures often attach responsibility to the individual service user: as such placement failure is viewed as inevitable; the individual is perceived as being unwilling or unable to gain and sustain accommodation; housing solutions are viewed as illusive and approaching impossible; and, cyclical homelessness becomes an almost accepted given.

You can read the full research document here.

We have more information on homelessness on our website which you can find here.


Tagged In

Research, Homelessness


Kate McCauley

This article was written on 26 July 2018. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.