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Shelter Cymru sponsorship feature

Homelessness legislation review – giving a voice to service users

The ‘citizen centred’ approach to public service provision is rapidly gaining ground in Wales. The Welsh Government has publicly noted the benefits of involving service users in the design and review of services, stating that it can ensure that services are relevant to local needs and accountable to service users.

At Shelter Cymru, we have long recognised the importance of getting service users involved in the process of reviewing and developing the services that affect them.

In 2003 and 2005, we carried two ‘mystery shopper’ exercises that aimed to assess local authority homelessness services from the point of view of someone trying to get access support. We recruited a team of mystery shoppers who had all had been through the experience of presenting as homeless themselves and the resulting study and recommendations were very much user-led.

We also frequently involve service users at multiple levels in research projects that involve service reviews, including our evaluation of the housing and related support services for the young vulnerable people of Torfaen, research into identifying policy challenges and solutions for young people and housing in 2020 and an exploration of financial exclusion amongst care leavers in Wales.

The responses and experiences we have gained through these exercises have been invaluable. For example, the inclusion of service users helping us conduct the research has resulted in the collection of more in-depth valid data, as research participants are much more likely to open up to others who have been through a similar experience to themselves.

There is also the added benefit to service users who get trained in research skills and are fully supported by our research team. This experience is a great way to increase transferable work skills that can be used in future employment opportunities as well as being a way to increase confidence.

When the Welsh Government announced its intention to carry out a review of current homelessness legislation, we were quick to urge that it should incorporate a strong public engagement element.

Together with Cymorth Cymru, we argued that this element was vital in order to establish how the delivery of services best meets the needs of people affected by homelessness, as well as providing an invaluable insight into the implementation of current legislation through service user experiences.

The Welsh Government agreed and at the time of writing we are in the midst of a hectic research schedule involving our existing service user panels, recruiting focus groups and putting together a programme of public engagement work at a range of locations as well as through online and social media channels.

This research is being carried out in parallel with, and in support of, the main review project commissioned by the Welsh Government (see page 22). We are aiming to build a picture of people’s awareness of the existing support services available, where they would go if they were in difficulties and what kind of assistance they would want or expect if they were threatened with losing their home.

We have already had some very thought-provoking responses from both our south and north Wales service user panel, which will be fed into the review and help to shape the direction of the more intensive focus groups that we are establishing to examine issues in greater detail.

Among the topics for discussion will be an exploration of people’s ‘pathways’ through homelessness. For example, have they experienced repeat homelessness, where did they go, what services did they use, how accessible and appropriate were these services and, if the legislation was different, what would they have wanted to have happened?

Another strand will involve gathering views on a range of hypothetical situations around issues in the current homelessness legislation. Amongst other things, we want to know people’s views about why some people are given housing priority over others or why someone could be considered to have made themselves intentionally homeless and so become ineligible for further support. We want to know who people think should be helped and how.

As well as this, we will be supporting our service users to develop their own set of recommendations and providing them with opportunities to present their ideas and scenarios for homelessness services and legislation to key decision makers and service providers.

As an organisation, Shelter Cymru sees priority need and intentional homelessness as key issues to be addressed in any review of legislation, but it’s important to assess how strongly they resonate with the general public as well. It is only by identifying the different factors that people who have experienced homelessness feel are important in service provision that we can finally start developing services that are genuinely and meaningfully citizen centred.

This is both a challenging and exciting process for Shelter Cymru as an organisation. However, putting the service user at the heart of service reviews is in keeping both with Shelter Cymru’s ethos and the ‘citizen centred’ approach currently gaining momentum in Wales.

For more information, contact Dr Jacqueline Campbell, Senior Research Officer at Shelter Cymru, [email protected]

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