The year-long study – conducted by Elisabeth Garratt (Research Fellow 2015-2019) and Jan Flaherty (Research Officer 2018-2019) and supported by the John Fell Fund and local business Lucy Group Ltd – examined the fluid and transitory nature of homelessness by mapping the qualitative life stories of 39 participants who had experienced homelessness in Oxford.
Elisabeth and Jan, based at the Centre for Social Investigation, found that moments of transition between housing and homelessness and between different types of homelessness could be both an opportunity for positive change and a risky time where circumstances could worsen. Among their most interesting findings, they noted that:
- Most of the interviewees were homeless more than once in their lifetime: 12 had been homeless 2 to 5 times in their life, and 16 more than 10 times.
- Leaving home as a teenager seemed to be significantly linked to later homelessness: 24 of the 39 participants had left home as teenagers.
- 31 participants had a clear pre-existing link to Oxford and Oxfordshire before they became homeless in the area, for example had grown up or lived in the city or the county.
- Experiences of ‘hidden’ homelessness were also very common amongst these participants: 33 out of 39 had sofa-surfed at some point in their lives.
Their work also identified some of the key reasons for participants’ homelessness, ranging from the structural to the emotional and social.
Jan and Elisabeth presented their findings at a briefing on Wednesday 13 November, and then facilitated a discussion about the local support services available, and how these services can best support people experiencing homelessness in Oxford. More than 50 people attended, representing national and local government, local statutory and third-sector support services, academia, and Oxford University, as well as some of the participants themselves.
On sharing their research, Elisabeth commented:
“We were delighted that so many people joined us last week, including some of our participants: it prompted several positive conversations about how our research can inform local practice and to date, we have been invited to contribute to Oxford City Council’s strategies on rough sleeping, and non-accommodation based services. We are optimistic that our research will have real practical application and contribute to a reduction in homelessness in the city of Oxford.”
Elisabeth also took part in a panel discussion on homelessness and housing in Oxford on the same day at the Blavatnik School of Government.
A project briefing is in preparation and the detailed findings will be written up in the following months.
Pictured: An attendee at the briefing in November takes in some of the 'homelessness pathways' created by participants as part of the study. Photograph by Peter Marshall.