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Question time

January 10 2021
What’s the point of evaluating research on health care and homelessness?

The team involved with health charity Groundswell’s Homeless Health Peer Advocacy (HHPA) project explain how evaluation is going to boost the findings:

Q: Why research?

We are trying to see how Groundswell’s HHPA service works, how well it works, and how much money it might save the NHS.
Lots of people report good things about HHPA. But we still need to know the extent to which it works, and who it works best for. So, does HHPA work best for long-term or short-term health issues? Does it make a difference that Peer Advocates have lived experience of homelessness themselves? Understanding the service more can help Groundswell keep developing the service.

Q: Who is doing the research?

A big team. Groundswell are central, and through them people with experience of homelessness have shaped what we all do as a team. There are also academic researchers from three universities – the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), King’s College London (KCL) and University College London (UCL) – working alongside researchers who have experience of being homeless.

Q: Can the Pavement readers join the study?

Maybe. Covid-19 permitting, we will be working in hostels and day centres across London soon to do a survey. You might see members of our team, or hostel staff talking about it and if you are approached to take part, please consider it.

Q: What is going to happen with the results?

Groundswell will be working hard to adapt HHPA in response to whatever is found, so we can improve health services for people who are homeless. We’ll be doing some workshops in hostels and day centres too. We will also be taking the results to the people who decide on what health services get funded.

Q: Does research even work?

Lots of researchers go to hostels and day centres and lots of research is done, but often the impact it has isn’t always clear. This can be the fault of researchers, but when it comes to health, it is also about the challenges of changing a complex health system that has resource limitations. Our team doesn’t have all the answers to that, and we are trying to do the study in the best possible way. Our goal is to improve things for the people Groundswell works with, who will be homeless, or have been homeless or are insecurely housed, and help bring about wider changes in society that affect how people who are homeless are treated.

Q: What does good homeless health research look like?

For us, good research is participatory. This is a buzz word, we know. What we mean is that the study from start to finish, from question development, to study design, and implementation, is being shaped by people with experience of homelessness.

Q: What’s the future for homeless health research?

Covid-19 is obviously the big topic, with lots to understand on testing and vaccines. But there are also lots of challenges from before Covid-19 arrived, like understanding stigma and how to reduce it, or what the impact of Universal Credit might be for people’s health. If you have any suggestions on what should be studied, we would like to hear from you.

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