Experts by Experience: Peer Support and its Use with the Homeless

Community Ment Health J. 2017 Jul;53(5):598-612. doi: 10.1007/s10597-017-0102-2. Epub 2017 Feb 7.


The homeless population has complex needs. Peers with experience of homelessness offer unique perspectives in supporting those experiencing homelessness. Peer support fostered and developed by professional organisations, termed intentional peer support (IPS), formalises this process. This review aims to assess the effectiveness of IPS as an intervention with young adults and adult homeless persons (including streetdwelling and those within services). PyscINFO, Web of Science, MEDLINE, and CINAHL were searched, resulting in ten studies, involving 1,829 participants. Peer support has significant impacts on quality of life, drug/alcohol use, and social support. Common elements of peer support are identified, suggesting possible processes that underlie effective peer support. Shared experiences, role modelling, and social support are suggested to be vital aspects of peer support and moderate changes in homeless clients. One study was deemed to have moderate/high quality; the remaining studies had low and moderate quality. Limitations of each are discussed.

Keywords: Drug/alcohol use; Homelessness; Peer support; Quality of life.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Ill-Housed Persons* / psychology
  • Peer Group*
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Social Support*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy