Accessible summary: Homeless persons are known to be highly vulnerable to psychological trauma, in events triggering periods of homelessness and the considerable social isolation and adversity suffered when homeless. This study provides an account of how mental health support work is experienced by homeless service users when it is informed by a person-centred, non-directive approach and implemented by trainee health and social care professionals under the auspices of a specialized psychological trauma service. The study draws upon material gathered from interviews with service users domiciled in supported housing for homeless persons and support workers who practiced on the programme. The service users who participated in the study valued support work that combined practical and relational elements, but would have preferred a longer-term involvement. They also spoke of feelings of disconnection and estrangement from others including their peers in supported housing. The support worker participants valued the flexibility they had when working on the programme to tailor their intervention to service users' individual needs. Practice implications of the study are discussed. These include the need to minimize barriers to accessing support, facilitate informal time between professionals and homeless service users, and manage intervention endings sensitively when temporary staffing arrangements are in place.
Abstract: Homeless people are a population known to be highly vulnerable to trauma, in triggering events to becoming homeless and the considerable social isolation, discrimination, and adversity suffered when homeless. Currently, there is a paucity of research into mental health service delivery to homeless persons and the influence it imparts in individual lives. This article presents a qualitative 'practice research' study into a pilot programme of social support work delivered in a specialized psychological trauma service to homeless service users. The programme was grounded in a non-directive, person-centred approach and staffed by student social workers. The study aim was to explore the support work programme as it was received by service users domiciled in supported housing for homeless persons, encompassing experiencing the programme, worker-service user engagement and contextual influences bearing upon positive outcomes. Narrative interviews gathered the impressions of service users and support workers and the data arising from these interviews was analysed thematically. Service user participants valued support work that combined practical and relational elements, but would have preferred a longer-term involvement. They also spoke of feelings of disconnection and estrangement from their peers in the supported accommodation and their families. The worker participants valued the flexibility of person-centred work tailored to service users' individual needs and echoed service user concerns around the short-term nature of their involvement. Psychiatric nurses carrying out, or supervising, mental health support work with homeless service users should be mindful of the potential impact of temporary staffing arrangements on continuity of care. They should also consider how working from a person-centred perspective and addressing client's practical needs may aid in developing rapport and trust with homeless service users.
Keywords: homelessness; narratives; psycho-social intervention; social support; trauma.
© 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.