Listen to the voices behind the numbers

Tuesday, 10 March 2015 - 7:17am

In our Annual Review 2015, many services told us that the needs of the people they work with are becoming more complex. Sam Thomas, programme manager for Voices from the Frontline, looks at the importance of putting the experiences of those people at the heart of policy making and commissioning.

Paul discusses his experiences at the launch of Voices from the Frontline. Photograph:

Homeless Link’s Annual Review of single homelessness support reveals a sector doing essential work in the face of growing pressures. It also provides important evidence on where those pressures are being felt the most.

This year’s report reinforces something we already know: that many people experiencing homelessness face additional challenges in their lives. For instance, 38% of people in accommodation projects need additional support with issues like substance misuse or mental health problems.

Despite this, over half of services reported that they’ve had to turn away clients because their needs were too complex, while nearly a quarter said they lack the staff resources to support them properly.

Experience matters

I lead Voices from the Frontline, a project that explores the context behind these worrying numbers. It’s been developed through the Making Every Adult Matter coalition (MEAM), which sees Homeless Link working together with three other national charities – Clinks, DrugScope and Mind.

By starting conversations with people with personal experience of multiple needs, and the frontline staff who support them, the project has explored why services often struggle to provide effective, joined-up support.

One insight is the degree to which policies can work together to have unintended effects. When different services are funded and commissioned separately, people whose problems don’t fit into neat boxes are often caught in-between.

I’d argue that you can only understand these systemic problems if you start with the people who are most directly affected by them. This is something that many services already recognise, and that’s why they work closely with experts by experience to improve the way they work.

Do policy makers understand the issues?

As Homeless Link’s research shows, though, these issues go beyond individual services. 41% of accommodation providers have had their funding reduced, and this means more than ever that they are dependent on the decisions made by local and national policymakers.

Too often, the people making those decisions don’t benefit from an understanding of the challenges faced by someone who has complex needs. That’s why, ahead of the general election, Voices from the Frontline is inviting people across the country to help design policy solutions to some of the challenges our project has uncovered.

Tools to start the conversation

We’ve recently published a toolkit that introduces some of the issues at stake, and how you can provide a platform for the views and experience of the people you support. It provides straightforward guidance on how you can discuss them within your service or community. Local areas are already getting involved, and in May we’ll publish the ideas that come out of these conversations, helping to inform the decisions of the next government.

There’s growing agreement among policymakers that a national focus is needed on complex needs – and this is something MEAM is calling for. We need to make sure the people best placed to know what works are at the heart of that conversation.

Voices from the Frontline brings the voices of people with multiple needs and those who support them into debates on national policy. If your service would like to get involved, contact the Voices from the Frontline team at

Single homelessness support in England: Annual Review 2015

Our 2015 review of the sector looks at the capacity, support and services available to people who become homeless in England, the changing nature of demand for those services, as well as funding and changes to provision.