University of Southampton: Psychologists in reducing rough sleeping numbers during pandemic

The UK government’s recent annual rough sleeping snapshot showing that rough sleeping has fallen 43% in England since 2018 was welcome news for Dr Nick Maguire, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Southampton.

The data published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) showed a reduction from 4,677 people sleeping rough in 2018 compared with 2,688 people estimated to be sleeping rough in autumn 2020 when the figures were captured.

Further data published shows a continued downward trend in rough sleeping numbers over the winter – with the total number of people recorded as sleeping rough across the whole of England falling to 1,461 at the end of January. Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, attributes the fall to added government funding made through the ‘Everyone In’ project which launched at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic which he says has now supported 37,000 people into secure accommodation with more than 26,000 moved on to longer-term homes.

As part of the government’s announcement, the Housing Secretary paid tribute to the combined efforts of councils, charities, faith groups and other community partners which have been crucial to supporting thousands of rough sleepers during the pandemic, making direct reference to the efforts of Dr Maguire and his colleagues in Psychology at the University of Southampton who are working successfully with people who are homeless in Basingstoke and in collaboration with Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council (BDBC). In fact, government funding has been used in the town to provide bespoke support to rough sleepers as well as support for staff throughout the pandemic resulting in zero rough sleepers reported over the last three months.

“The current reduction in rough sleeping figures is to be celebrated,” said Dr Maguire who has spent a great deal of his clinical and academic career devoted to focusing on projects to help people who are homeless. “It is in all probability attributable to an enormous effort, funded by government, to get ‘everybody in’ during the pandemic to reduce people’s risk of exposure and death.

“This project, however, will soon end and in all likelihood numbers of people living on the streets may again rise,” he advised. “We’ve learned a huge amount about what was effective for people in enabling sustained accommodation and can take this learning forward as we transition back to more ‘normal’ services and structures.”

Dr Maguire’s efforts are channelled through a not-for-profit social enterprise he established with a colleague in collaboration with the University called OutcomeHome (OCH) to provide bespoke psychology services for people who are homeless and the staff who serve them.

“We set it up as a not-for-profit social enterprise as we wanted to take what is most effective from business models applied to social mission activities’,” Dr Maguire explained. “OCH has established a partnership with the University of Southampton whereby it is able to fund research (the enterprise funded a COVID research project last year, for example), and data generated by OCH services is handed to the homelessness research team in the University’s Psychology Department for analysis and publication.

“This partnership is symbiotic as the academic research we do (the evidence-generating practice) informs the services offered by OCH (the evidence-based practice) and vice-versa, so all sides benefit from the data and the experiences documented,” he continued. “We also partner with colleagues in Houston, Texas (Houston Homeless Healthcare) who are involved in similar work, and who similarly partner with the University of Houston. Within the University, we’re also looking to collaborate with the Salvation Army to set up a Centre for Homelessness Research.”

In 2017, OCH started working with BDBC, who commissioned the enterprise to support them with their Rough Sleeper Initiative project. OCH continues to work with BDBC as well as a large housing company, Vivid.

“We have a great Clinical Psychologist and assistant psychologists who supports the two homeless hostels in Basingstoke, as well as working with individuals and health services to ensure effective support,” said Dr Maguire. “And Dr Steph Barker, a former PhD student of ours, set up and co-ordinates a highly effective network of peer mentors as a component of the enterprise, who have been really successful in engaging people who are homeless and addressing practical issues. They have arguably been one of the most effective parts of our service there”

OCH now works with local authorities delivering services across Portsmouth and Southampton as well as Basingstoke, funded by grants from MHCLG and Public Health England (PHE). Dr Maguire said that the enterprise is also exploring contracts with services on the Isle of Wight.

In Southampton, OCH supports a Homeless Vulnerable Adult Support Team through reflective practice and individual caseloads and is expanding – and currently recruiting – to include psychological support for specialist drug and alcohol and mental health services.