Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

current issue

February – March 2024 : The little things READ ONLINE


Former rough sleepers help peers find care

May 04 2015
One-to-one support for health needs benefits riugh sleepers and the NHS

More than two-thirds of all people sleeping rough are said to have a physical health need, yet there are several practical – and personal – difficulties that mean people don’t get the treatment they require.

But now a new peer advocacy project from Groundswell is looking to change this with the help of a network of experienced volunteers who will support rough sleepers in registering for and receiving healthcare.

The Homeless Health Peer Advocacy (HHPA) network offers one-to-one support, initially helping to arrange and attend medical appointments. They will then give people the support they need to get registered in for all their healthcare needs.

The project helps rough sleepers to find their way through the system, including completing all the paperwork, and gives practical assistance where required.

The HHPA is already getting results: a Young Foundation evaluation conducted last year found that the pilot service resulted in fewer A&E visits and missed appointments, saving the NHS 42 per cent of the costs it would otherwise have fronted. 

At the core of the service is a team of volunteers, all of whom have personal experience of homelessness. According to John Driscoll, who initially spent a year with the project as a volunteer before returning as a paid member of staff, this is one of the reasons why the project has been a success to date.

“Many of the clients we have worked with are now coming back as advocates,” he points out. “They see the benefits of it from one side and then return and offer the help they were given in the first place.”

The organisation is always looking for new volunteers, who have the lived experience of homelessness.

The volunteer team works closely, which Driscoll sees as a vital aspect of the service. “Our peer advocates share information amongst themselves about the people we work with, so there is no requirement for a client to constantly repeat themselves,” he explains. “This eliminates the ‘key worker’ scenario, where an advocate might move on, bringing the client back to square one and leaving them in the lurch. We understand the pressure that this can cause and work to avoid that.”