Pilkington, Nicki (2019) ‘How are themes of support realised in services for women experiencing homelessness? A small-scale qualitative study’. Masters thesis, University of Huddersfield.


There is concern about homelessness in the UK, and the Homelessness Reduction Act (2017) is a recently welcomed legislative response. This research examines nine women’s experiences of receiving support across three organisations in the north of England.


As arguably the experiences of women cannot be directly measured and observed, I adopt an interpretivist approach to knowledge production in this research. I foreground the subjective experiences, recognising that ‘support’ is a multi-faceted concept and relational to the participants, myself and psychosocial problems faced. I am taking a feminist research approach, examining the ways in which women consider support they receive in services from their unique perspectives.
In this way, the data generated does not represent total knowledge or cover all aspects of support, but participants carry shared characteristics of their self-selecting gender, having been recognised as a homeless woman by a service provider or Local Authority and being in receipt of support from a service. The research method involved 2 focus groups and 2 semi-structured interviews. Four themes of good practice were identified for consideration arising from the review of the literature; strengths-based approaches/resilience work, individually tailored responses to trauma to promote emotional well-being, responses to individual and structural disadvantage and lastly the significance of support relationships for women in services.


The findings indicate the significance of trust across all areas of practice, with the presence or absence of trust underpinning many aspects of support and self-regard. Emotional trust benefited from how ‘talk’ with staff was perceived and conversely how power and control were negatively operating in a service. The findings also indicate how loneliness and isolation impacted upon all the participants and how this could be alleviated by the support on offer. ‘Checking up’ on women by support staff was shown to carry both positive and negative connotations for women. It was perceived as an expression of care and concern or more negatively as a feature of ‘policing’ in services and an expression of arbitrary power and control. The way that women framed themselves and felt they were framed by staff was also of significance in reinforcing negative self-image and stigma.


Whilst the research is small-scale, it highlights the significance of having an environment that recognises the significance of fostering trust and which nurtures empathic responses from staff and opportunities for positive interaction. It also serves to highlight how despite challenges faced by services, support responses carry potential positives for women into beyond the time in the service. They can help foster hope and a positive sense of self and create opportunities to build connections within and beyond services into women’s’ futures. Whilst there may be challenges present in responding to structural disadvantages, services should not lose sight of the significance of their role in countering or reinforcing negative stigma faced by women who are homeless. This may include awareness of how women are being framed in discourse both within and beyond the particular service or organisation and how this interacts with broader social issues of homelessness and gender.

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