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Predicting homelessness

AZUKO with Community Solutions / LBBD


This project was funded and made possible by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s, Ideas and Pioneers fund. The Paul Hamlyn Foundation and AzuKo set out to partner with an organisation that was already using quantitative data and predictive analytics to identify who is at risk of homelessness. Our ambition was to employ human-centred, qualitative research to compliment the quantitative insights. Ultimately, we wanted to

better understand why people were ending up homeless, and provide further depth into their emotional, psychological and physical experience with housing, homelessness and the services that support them. To do this we partnered with the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham who already had strong correlative links between particular residents and those who seek housing and homelessness support. That formed the basis for the research presented here.


Table of contents 2 4 5 6—­­­­7

Introduction Intention, objectives & methodology Process & timeline Growth & improvement

8—9 10—11 12—15 16 17 18—19 20 21 22—23 24—25 26 27 28—29 30 31 32 33

Needs, expectations & service over time — LEGENDA Legacy of the service (Re)assurance is clarity is reassurance Chaos & complexity The core need Collaborative vision creation Holistic and integrated care Holistic care: the family unit Cohesion & fatigue Please understand me Waiting to act Physical, emotional & psychological state & empathy Signposting Building ownership By my side / what support looks like Landlords & power A dire situation

36—37 38 39

Staff outputs (Staff) Assumptions (Staff) Decision making, triangulation & decision fatigue




Methodology & method

The value of this research is the development of a richer picture and understanding of what our citizens are experiencing - emotionally, physically and psychologically, so we can have a more informed, intimate and empathic discussion about our assumptions, our services and our impact.


We believe in-depth, humancentred research is vital for answering ‘why’ and for providing richness and reason to quantitative data.

The purpose is to build ever evolving hypotheses. Pages 4 and 5 in this report are a brief overview of the intention, objectives and methodology for this project. The rest of the report is dedicated to hypotheses we’ve developed, accompanied by quotes, design questions, assumptions and potential outcomes for the team to think about and build on. The hypotheses are meant to be developed, amended and negated as more information comes in about the experience of citizens.

In our kick-off co-design workshop, we asked, “How might...” —— we create and communicate expectations that are empowering and that support residents? —— we create a psychologically safe environment for residents to be open and honest? —— teams signpost more effectively? —— we support, develop and train the team to better support residents? —— we position services to maximize the opportunities for prevention? —— we create an empathic understanding of the experience of citizens going through housing advice?

The method we chose is ethnographic interviews. Structured, 45 - 60-minute, face-to-face discussions create intimacy, trust and a depth of understanding from which to develop strong hypotheses about the experience of citizens in their relationship to themselves, their families, citizenship, home, housing, support and housing advice.


Process & timeline 1 — TEAM


Team introductions 03.18

An intimate, collective understanding of the vision of the team and how the project fits into that vision is necessary. The research objectives are collaboratively defined so that it’s aligned.

Transcribing and coding the interviews shapes early themes and hypotheses. These themes evolve as each new interview is analysed.

Context meetings 06.18

5 — HYPOTHESES 2 — PLACE We explore the space - in this case, two days at John Smith House (JSH). The service is largely defined and shaped by the environment in which it exists and vice versa. We learn a lot from observing the place.

3 — CITIZENS In-depth ethnographic interviews develop a deep connection and understanding of the emotional, physical and psychological experience of those using the service.

Synthesis of the themes and hypotheses is a non-linear and iterative process - it requires multiple perspectives. Insights and hypotheses are grounded in what is observed and coupled with an understanding of meaningful human experiences, basic needs and human behaviour and psychology.

Team workshop 07.18 JSH ethnographic observations / 2 days 08.18 Ten in-depth resident interviews 07.18 - 04.19 Steering group communication workshops 02.19 Analysis and synthesis of data 12.18 - 04.19 Presentation of findings 06.19


Growth & improvement

“In Barking, they’ve changed because now The services team at the London Borough of Barking and you can email Dagenham - Community Solutions - is genuinely interested in them and they will learning and growth. This work has always been about feedback and making improvements to an already improved service. respond, it’s easy. Of course, they’re all The borough has a population of nearly 210,000 people and our sample size for this piece of research was 10. human beings, but Most of the thoughts, hypotheses and questions have been I think their system derived from our conversations with residents. They do not is much better.” necessarily consider the inner workings of the service, the limitations on capacity, the level of demand and the ongoing improvements, hence the reason there are no concrete recommendations. We make no assumptions about what Community Solutions is already aware of.

“Well, they* were a lot more helpful, a lot more understanding, “Yeah, she got me a lot more sympathetic, somewhere for the a lot more informative, weekend, and I had to I don’t know, it was go back to the council a different attitude on the Monday. And altogether... I have to she was sorting me say the experience this out this place now. She time was completely went extra for me, and I different.” appreciated it so much what she’d done for me, it was untrue. She didn’t have to stay two hours behind work, just for me, just so I’d be safe, she didn’t have to do that and she did it.”



“Communication with the council has been good recently – it’s responsive and available.” “And even now at Brocklebank, I do appreciate it, I definitely appreciate it, I’m grateful because there are people in a worse position than myself maybe.”

“So with no one, nothing, nowhere, and that’s when I went back to the council, and the lady in there was an absolute star, brilliant, never ever met anyone like her before… She was just fantastic. I’m a recovering drug addict and I was on drugs really bad, and she’s the first person that sat there and listened to me and helped me, and if it wasn’t for her I don’t know where I’d be right now… I keep calling it St Pauls, it’s John Smith House.”




Needs, expectations & service over time Needs are dynamic and are changing over time, in the immediate, people need reassurance and physical, emotional and psychological calm. In the long term, people need a vision and a more rational conversation about their core need. People’s expectation of the council also varies over time and is largely a legacy of interactions between their family, their friends and themselves.

“I was homeless, and I never… I had open heart surgery as well. And I got a letter from Professor Deanfield, one of the top surgeons in the world, saying basically I cannot live on the streets, I’ll die. And the council still said, I’m not a priority.”

theme quotes – from the citizen interviews

hypothesis­­­­ — the insight synthesised from the interviews that may be validated and/or negated with time and further learning

design question – potential challenges drawn from the hypothesis that the team can begin to develop solutions around

How might we more regularly consider and design for needs over time? How might we balance the short term, survival thinking and long-term planning?


“And they always tell you, ‘don’t expect that we’ll find you something, don’t expect… when you don’t know where to start or what to do… and she also told me, ‘please register yourself to do bidding’, and she said, ‘it’s not that you’re gonna get a property from there, because obviously you’ve just registered, but just register yourself’. I’m thinking, you tell me I won’t get anything from it, but you tell me to register.”

“After living with this woman, I expect the council to do something about my situation. It’s that bad at the moment”.

assumptions – what we may not have insight into, the answers to which could build on and/or negate the hypothesis

—— What’s the team’s capacity to reflect on needs and the difference between different needs? —— What would awareness of those different needs mean to the service team? —— What understanding does the team have of stress on people’s ability to make useful decisions? —— Do we want to put people on the waiting list if there’s very little chance they’ll get one? What is the purpose and intention of the housing list? Is it still fit for purpose?


service team reports awareness of and distinction between short term and long term needs in service users. / The service team acknowledges and expects day-to-day variations and fluctuations in emotions and needs of users.

outcomes – potential measurable outcomes the team could use as indicators of improvement


Legacy of the service The citizen is not necessarily engaging with that person in front of them, they’re engaging with the collective people who’ve ‘sat in that chair’ - the legacy of the service. Service users are building or have built relationships with institutions, authority and people, which change over time, and at times, the people representing the institution are carrying the weight of those past interactions. These are experienced firsthand - good and bad - by word-of-mouth via friends and family, and social media.

“Well there’s a lot of speculation on social media about what goes on if you approach the council when you’re homeless or you’re facing homelessness. So I’d just been going by that and hearsay as well you know from friends. And yeah I was really worried that I wasn’t going to be helped because it was rent arrears that I was being evicted for.”

“And I understand it’s hard because, it’s frustrating, you take it out on people on the frontline, on the desk, but it’s not their fault, ‘cause their hands are very much tied by the processes above them, so I wouldn’t have a go at them. I understand, ‘cause they’re the people that’s there, but it’s not them, their hands are tied, they can only do so much.”

How might we acknowledge and resolve the legacy of the relationship between citizens, the council and authority before providing support?

—— How are interactions today tainted by the previous experiences with the council? —— Is the individual council officer an embodiment of the entire organisation? —— What are citizens attitudes toward the people in front of them?


“I don’t trust people in authority any more, ‘cause I’ve been lied to in the past, I’m now thinking yeah but is it true? Are you just saying that?”

—— What are the stories people are telling themselves about the council and how it works? How do we validate and challenge that compassionately?

OUTCOMES: Citizens

report that any previous issues with the council have been resolved before they begin receiving support. / Citizens express gratitude for the positive experiences they’ve had with the council.


(Re)assurance is clarity “It's just you know being told. I like is reassurance to know exactly what's going on. Most people are seeking You know step-by-step and I just wasn't reassurance - a feeling that given any information on what the next everything is going to be OK. Expectations vary, and most step… let alone a couple of weeks. I just are coming to support with felt like I didn't have much insight into the hope of ‘moving forward’; they don’t want to waste their the process or what the decisions might time. Insight and clarity will go a long way. look like or where I was going.” The uncertainty families face can be unsettling and may provoke mental and physical illness, particularly if there is little insight into what may happen to you and your family.

“Because a lot of people in there are, at very best, at a bad stage in life. No one wants to be there, something’s happened in their life, maybe through no fault of their own they’re in that position, and for a wide range of reasons, they need… obviously, they might be frantic, they might be manic, they need calm and “I get a call from private number, so need reassurance… I can’t reply to it to say I went to go everything official can and view the place and it was this and this… so they have the duty to be quite daunting.” call me back and ask me – ‘oh, did you go to view the place, how was it?’ I didn’t get that.”

How might we better provide clarity, calm and insight and thus reassurance to citizens?

—— Is supporting understanding seen as disempowering (“mollycoddling”)? —— How comfortable and/ or prepared are teams to explain ‘why’ things happen? How much does the team understand the system? —— What clarity are we already providing?

—— How much assurance is possible when people are stressed, anxious, upset? —— What level of assurance can we expect our team to deliver? —— In what form does clarity present itself? —— What do staff think is their objective in their conversations with citizens?


“People are going there for help. And you are there to help people, or let them know what and how to do things.”


“Not understanding what the next step is. I got this place for now, but how do I get on to the next step to get my own property.” WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE TO DO?

“Be in good behaviour, I don’t know.”

Citizens can objectively paraphrase back why things are happening the way they are and what potential outcomes there are for their families. OUTCOMES:


What does assurance and clarity look like? —— Describe each step of the process, share insight —— Explain ‘why’ things are happening —— Describe what the council’s duty is —— Describe what the citizen’s responsibility is —— Describe potential outcomes for the citizen —— Have people identify their support network­– t­ hat they are not alone —— Assure people there are others like them going through the same exact thing —— Have citizens paraphrase back what situation they’re in before they leave —— Be frank in a compassionate and earnest way - “with conviction” —— Find simple, cheap ways to more regularly and earlier validate/confirm the receipt of required documents and actions by the citizen

“I was expecting them to reassure me that I wasn’t going to be put on the streets.” “I had no idea what was going to happen when I was evicted. I had absolutely no idea where I was going to go what I was going to do.” “...they was in there for months and then the council would say, ‘we don't have a duty to help you’ and then they'd be evicted.” “Leave people understanding the situation they’re in.”

“Just the way they kept speaking to me, ‘oh well there’s nothing we can do about it’, like so hard-faced, you know, ‘don’t worry’ mind you, they did say don’t worry, but it was with no conviction.” “I felt like I was on my own.” “… of course they start to ask for all the documents all the proofs, and I sent everything I had, then any time I call them, I’m waiting a long time for some answer, like letter, or email or something, there’s this document missing and this one is missing, and this one is missing, but they never

reached me, I always call them to find out there’s something else missing, was always like that, it was always like that. I was like crying cos I didn’t know how to pay my rent, it was like crazy, it wasn’t easy at all.” “It’s not clear... I have sent all the documents they ask me for, and then if they need something else, I think they should call back and say now you need to send me this, this and that. But they never did… So there is some lack as well in the service... It was specifically for housing benefit.” “And she asked straight away, I come the other day and it was full of men, can you help me. And it was like, yeah of course. I thought people in temporary accommodation were... No, don’t have a bad impression of here, people are decent in here, there’s old ladies, pregnant girls, a couple of men that maybe you wanna steer clear of but don’t worry about it, it’s fully camera-ed, fully security. So even just setting her mind at rest, that sort of thing…” “All of that stress that I went through between May and July. And they ended up housing me in the borough anyway. So now when I look back and I think, well were they being truthful? You know I felt like I was just being fobbed off all the time because at the end of it I have been rehoused in the borough”. “Just calm down and plan the day... ‘cause you know, everything’s broken down, step by step, you know what you’re going through, and that’s why situations like this are even harder, ‘cause I was going


“communication, it’s the most important thing”. into the unknown. Especially, I mean, moving house is one of the biggest things you do in your life, and I’ve moved a lot. I crave stability and foundations...”

way she was looking right at me, going ‘stop worrying, you know’, and I just thought, you know I didn’t have any of this before. I thought, you know something I don’t, sort of. You know, I don’t know if the rules have changed, I still worried, you can’t help it can you.”

“… there is no contact for several months, is your contact person, but you don’t hear anything, and they’re like, oh as long as you don’t have the eviction letter, they can’t do… I felt really hopeless, really, when it comes to housing system, it doesn’t make no sense.”

“I need things explained in straight forward language to understand, if not, I will give up quickly.”

“I think they should make it clearer to people how their system works.” WHICH PART OF THE SYSTEM IS MOST AMBIGUOUS?

“The waiting list. Who gets priority and why… I couldn’t even tell you, it’s almost like they put their hands in the hat and pick out names. I don’t even understand how the system works, who gets priority, is it young people, older people, ill people?” “I did believe her actually. I did and I didn’t, ‘cause I thought, she’s not gonna blatantly lie to my face like that, I wouldn’t have thought so, I did have a bit of faith in her, by the


“Just understanding. I don’t mind doing something, trying something. But if I don’t understand, I just say fuck it, forget it. [If somethings hard to understand] just block it out.” “Yeah, I thought it was really bad, it was like I was being punished sort of for being made homeless and now I’ve got to start again at the bottom of the list.” DID YOU UNDERSTAND WHY THAT HAD HAPPENED?

“No, it wasn’t explained. That’s just what happens, when you move, you know, this is what… this is the sort of explanation you got.”


Interview sample

“Have you ever heard of St Luke’s?” ST LUKE’S?

“Yeah, I’m there. I get a script every two weeks.” A SCRIPT. WHAT’S A SCRIPT?

“Oh, you know like methadone, but I’m not on methadone, I’m on something else.” OK YEAH SO THEY GIVE YOU LIKE, IT’S JUST A LITTLE BIT TO…

“Yeah it’s a tablet and that, I’m on that, I go there, I’ve got my first mental health appointment on the 8th January, about my depression.” IS THAT WITH ST LUKE’S OR IS THAT WITH THE NHS OR…?

“That’s with uh, I can’t even remember, I can’t think what they’re called. It’s with the NHS though. I’ve seen a counsellor there, to sort what I do to myself out, and my head out, why, what happened and everything else, so yeah.” HOW DID YOU GET IN TOUCH WITH ST LUKE’S?

[Laughs]. “Missy at the council, [John Smith House worker], said to me that she’ll help me, but there’s certain rules and regulations I’ve gotta follow. She went, I want you to go there, and she was the kick up my backside I needed.”



“I’m not gonna help you…” AND HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN SHE TOLD YOU THAT?

“It’s what I needed to hear, it’s what I needed to hear. It was a roof over my head, and I would have done anything to get that roof over my head, and drugs were pulling me down.” HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT’S WHAT YOU NEEDED TO HEAR?

“Do you know, I don’t know if you know the lady I’m talking about, but she’s like a mum. She’s got that whole mum thing, demeanour, speech, and it was like my mum was telling me off, like if you don’t do this… yeah, but it wasn’t like she was screaming or shouting, she was just talking normally, and I didn’t wanna be on drugs anymore anyway. I’d been fighting to come off it for quite a while, it was just the fact that she was there, she was listening, I wanted to do it for myself. And I had a reason, even more to do it now, ‘cause of a place to live, and I knew she was serious, that if I didn’t get help, she wasn’t gonna help me anymore, and I’m just so grateful to her, so grateful to her…”


Chaos & complexity Chaos is unexpected and abrupt. It is leaving people in bad situations, they’re showing up to you in some form of crisis - life altering events happen abruptly and unexpectedly, “my arm went numb and I haven’t been able to work for a year”, “I was diagnosed with cancer” or “I didn’t know I owed the council £3,000” and this chaos affects our mental health, our relationships and our aspirations for our self and families. What’s more, the systems in place to support people are ever changing, difficult to decipher and not human, particularly when you’re experiencing crisis.

“He ran away, he left us. Me and my daughter were struggling. The time this thing happened. He just went on his own, said he can’t. He left. Yeah he said he’s leaving…”

“… in 2015, because I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, so it was quite a quick diagnosis and I was rushed through surgery and it was a big burden on my mom and my dad to look after the children and I feel like if we had that connection with the extended family, it wouldn’t have been so hard.”

How might we be more aware of the chaos that impacts our citizens’ lives and build more resilience earlier on in their relationship with us?

“They told me they are Barking and Dagenham fraud investigators… That’s when they told me that the women subletting the house is from the council. I said, I thought the house is for the woman, not for the council, cause she didn’t tell me, she told me it was her house.”


The core need Citizens come to support with unwavering ‘core needs’ that they are reluctant to concede, and there is always a good reason for this - these needs must be identified, understood and put at the ‘centre of the conversation’ for decisions to be collaborative and trusting. This need may change over time, as well. For example, one women said it was being in a place that could house her mother, but eventually it came down to having a ‘home for her children’.

“I said to her I won't leave the borough I made it very clear that I wouldn't leave the borough… I was terrified because you know I'm a single parent… and all I kept thinking was if I get ill again how am I going to manage with my family being so far away? And I explained that to the lady as well.”

“I don’t know, I don’t know. They just reissue a letter and sent to my door and said, you have to go to Basildon. And the lady called me again and said, did you receive the letter. I said, I’m not going please, you know quite well I am working here. If I go, it’s a contract job, my company told me, before you leave three months ahead. Who will give me reference if I go on a bad day?”

How might we more systematically identify and work around our citizens’ core needs? How might we also make clear in a compassionate way the core needs of the council?

—— How prepared are staff to unearth and listen for needs? —— What limitations are working to make this process more difficult? —— Could there be multiple core needs? How do we have an honest and compassionate conversation about these core needs? —— How many ways is the need for security manifesting itself?


understand and can describe fundamental needs and how they are manifested. For example, security can manifest itself in a need to retain a particular job, a need to have family around, among other things. / Citizens can verbalise/describe their own core need.


Collaborative vision creation When multiple people (partnerships, teams, organisations) hold a collective intention and vision, the possibilities for the individuals in the collective are beyond understanding - this is a fundamental organisational tenant. Should the same thing be happening when we are supporting citizens - a collectively held vision that everyone is working toward, that is?

How might staff co-create a vision with residents that establishes a verbal and visual objective/goal for the resident to work toward?

“I wanna work! I’m not expecting them to take care of me. I find a better job. Maybe go back to school, go back to uni, study, find a better job, so I can take pension, pension, so that when I get older… I wanna do nursing.” “I’ve never been here to school – I started Uni, not first year, it was foundation year, but then my daughter got here, so I stopped, but hopefully in the future I will continue.”

—— How adversarial are the current interactions between staff and residents? Winner and loser scenarios? —— What collaborative conversations are already happening at LBBD? How might we share these best practices? —— How well prepared do staff feel to have these conversations? What do they feel they need to be able to do so? —— What limitations are there from a policy or data collection perspective (e.g. HRA)?


feel confident to co-create a vision and vision statement with citizens. / Citizens develop a vision that they can refer back to and use as a guiding light on their journey.


“I was planning to study, and especially to improve my career to improve myself, to live in Portugal is amazing, but there is no opportunity for young people to increase, to develop their careers.�


“We live together but we are not married... That’s when they told me that my partner is the one who is entitled not me. For him he has indefinite leave to remain... How could you not know that, I viewed the place and you are the one who is using my number to go and view the places and asking me. And then the third time, you are telling me I’m not entitled to view it – what’s the meaning of that?”

Holistic and integrated care In medicine, care starts the moment the patient walks into the surgery - some patients don’t perceive a difference between reception, nurses and doctors - it is all part of an effort to serve their and their family’s health. The same can be said for people engaging housing support. Whether it’s thinking about diet and nutrition, mental wellbeing, children’s education and/or access to housing benefits, there should be an emphasis on serving the whole person and the family unit.

“Not me. He is the one responsible for the property. They gave him no my name. He owns it in his name”. WHO WERE YOU COMMUNICATING WITH AT THE COUNCIL ABOUT THE HOUSE AND THE RENT?

“Himself was communicating with them. Yeah, he was doing that. I wasn’t in the picture”.

How might we develop a more rounded approach to care for residents receiving support?

“He’s from Ghana. I’m from Kenya… I think when you get to know someone you understand each other – that’s the main thing, you know. If you have understanding, you know where I’m coming from… He’s a Muslim. I'm a Christian.”

—— What is the teams current understanding of of holistic care? What is their understanding of how housing is connected to other elements of people’s lives? —— What’s the potential to integrate housing support with other crucial elements of people’s lives?


service considers housing, family health and wellbeing, education, relationships in the family, employment, among others in any conversation.


Holistic care: the family unit Individuals are integral parts of a whole - they are pieces of a larger system. By viewing them and serving them as pieces of a system will allow us to provide more cohesive and holistic care. For example, if a mother is depressed, then it is likely to affect the children’s wellbeing, their education and their behaviour. The varying roles, responsibilities, dynamics and connections in a family play out differently in each family.

“And family that stopped talking to me because I fell pregnant so young... I was cast out sort of thing. Not by immediate family, my mum and dad were very supportive, but aunts, uncles, grandparents – I was quite young. I don’t think I understood the seriousness of it.” “I couldn’t deal with the drama that my partner was putting me through… Well he was there and not there. If he had lived with me, and acted like, you know, a proper father, you know, it was different.”

Personal and household situations are not straightforward, they can be random and complex.

—— —— —— ——

The family finances and assets may be managed separately Expenses and bills may be managed separately A couple may have different legal statuses Each family has different norms and different gender roles, so even if someone is not legally entitled to certain benefits of residency, they may act as one - ‘de facto’ —— In extreme cases, particularly when there are co-dependency issues, the partners may be financially abusive by asking the partners to take out loans/debt, sign up for council tax in their name, among other things


Cohesion & fatigue A more streamlined and cohesive experience for residents will reduce fatigue, increase trust and support a more collaborative relationship. This may be a single point of reference that is the holder of a collective vision for the resident, or every staff offering the same quality of service, and/or similar care, attention and tone of voice across services among other things. This will have to consider that people are engaging with and receiving support from a range of unexpected sources, including their children’s head teacher, the council’s fraud investigator, probation officer, local charity workers, the council’s mental health team, among many others.

How might we build in more cohesion and continuity into the service?

“A lot of people go through hardship, they’ve probably gone through official things. A lot of people are tired in that place, they’ve been through hell, they’re exhausted, they need someone to pick them back up again and give them strength.”

“... he helped me with my process, and then he left, he moved to a different department, after that was a lady… and then she start and she said no she cannot help...”

—— How are we already trying to ensure cohesion along the journey of care - quality, tone of voice, etc? —— What support fatigue do we notice? How much are people tired of support and thus less willing to show up for potentially crucial aid/service?

—— What are all the ways we could create cohesion? Language, tone of individual team members, working with a single officer across multiple services, similar messaging, among others.


“Little by little, I just got used to it. Now I’m at a level where I just don’t really care…” “[John Smith House] referred me to social services, and social services said I should go back to them. They’re supposed to help me.” SO THEY SENT YOU BACK TO JOHN SMITH HOUSE. DID YOU GO BACK?

“I went back and they said they can’t help because there’s no recourse to public fund.” WHY DIDN’T YOU WANT TO SPEAK TO THEM?

“Because I’m fed up.”

OUTCOMES: Citizens

reduce their number of touch points. / Citizens report a more unified quality of care across people and departments.


Please understand me We must redefine the value of, and how we go about understanding citizens. We’ve heard many instances of people not feeling like they’ve been heard or understood, particularly at John Smith House - often times this is regarding one’s status and/ or family situation not being taken into account, for example, sending someone to seek support without recourse to public funding, before being sent to social services or CAB, again to be turned away Several people we spoke to felt as though the nuances of their situation were not understood (or that there was an attempt to understand) and that their situation was thus not ‘diagnosed’ and/or handled properly.

“She asked me why am I being evicted. I explained to her rent arrears. She said ‘that would make you intentionally homeless’ and I explained to her I lost my job, I was expected to make up the shortfall which is why I fell into arrears and she said in certain circumstances they can overlook the rent arrears… They wasn’t really interested in my circumstances - it was just, right, ‘why are you being evicted’? Because of rent arrears. ‘OK, well that would make you intentionally homeless’. It was more like it was trying to discourage me from going back for help.”

“Yeah it was very black and white you know if you’re in rent arrears, you are intentionally homeless you know and we don't have a duty to help you… I wanted to know what would happen after that. I wanted to know where I could go if the council said that they didn’t have a duty towards me. I wanted to know what would happen after that. And all I was told was it’s your responsibility.”

How might let citizens know that we understand their particular situation and that we are doing our best as a service to address that need?


“I got the impression that everybody was being told the same thing because there were three people at the front desk… the place was absolutely packed out with people with suitcases and all of their belongings. So, I feel like it was, rather than them listening to me and giving me information for my particular situation, I feel like it was just something that was being told to everybody.” “My caseworker asked to see three years’ worth of bank statements. When I actually got those and emailed her and said to her can we arrange an appointment for me to bring that down she never got back to me. So I didn’t feel like they done any real assessment with my case.”

—— Are there situations where nuance doesn’t matter, for example, being evicted because of arrears, and there is only one option for housing officers?

OUTCOMES: Citizens

know they’ve been heard and understood (even if they don’t like the outcome of the decision).


Interview sample

“Yeah, I thought, here I go again, it’s all gonna happen again, they’re not gonna help me. I’m gonna turn up again on the day”. So I actually went up there and started the process, went up to the council, John Smith house, with the first bit of the eviction notice, which is how you start the process to prove to them that you are gonna be evicted and that’s how it all starts up again, the process.” SO YOU WERE SAYING THAT WHEN YOU WENT THERE WITH THE LETTER, YOU WERE THINKING THEY WEREN’T GOING TO BE ABLE TO HELP YOU, IT FELT LIKE IT WAS ALL GONNA BE THE SAME THING THAT YOU HAD EXPERIENCED IN 2008. SO WHAT WAS THAT INTERACTION LIKE WHEN YOU PRESENTED THAT FIRST LETTER?

“Well, they were a lot more helpful, a lot more understanding, a lot more sympathetic, a lot more informative, I don’t know, it was a different attitude altogether.” WHAT GAVE YOU THE FEELING THAT THEY WERE MORE SYMPATHETIC, MORE EMPATHETIC? MORE INFORMATIVE? WHAT DID THEY DO? WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES?

“Right, it was sort of like, well don’t worry, and they actually assigned me a specific lady, [the name of the JSH case worker] her name was, from John Smith house. [the name of case worker], I think it was. And she was really really nice. And they said, we’ve made an appointment with you, with her for you, to come back whenever it was, say in a couple of weeks’ time or whatever and she’s gonna be like your caseworker sort of thing, and I was like oh blimey, this is different.”

“I never had that before. And just the way they spoke to me, it was a lot more interested in me, you know, the first time it happened, it was like, oh well we can’t do anything for you at the moment, not until you do this, or ‘til you do that, and the attitude was just so different.” WHAT DID YOU FIND INFORMATIVE?

“Um, telling me that I’m gonna have a caseworker, um, going through the process with me properly, being told properly like, well this will happen next, what they’ll do next is they’ll serve you this, and after ten years, I had forgotten the process a lot of it, you know, and what he’ll do is he’ll give you this bit next and you need to come back here with that. And we wanna do a, what do you call it, a rent calculation, of what you can afford, you know, just a lot more helpful.” YEAH, AND HOW WAS YOUR INTERACTION WITH [THE CASE WORKER]?

“Really good, she was lovely, she was really really nice. Even the initial girl that I saw on the desk, she was really nice as well, I can’t remember her name, but she was really good and helpful, she was just more interested, she took all my papers, she photocopied everything for me, she said look I’m putting them in a file. I never got any of that before, they set up a file for me. It’s coming back to me as I’m thinking about it.”


“[The case worker] was just kind, caring, um, ‘right now, what can we do, let’s have a think’, that sort of thing. Spoke to me like a human being, not like nah, computer says no, it was a lot more interactive and human… that’s what they was like before, like ‘no, no’. Yes, she was really nice.” WHAT’S BEEN THE RESULT THEN OF WORKING WITH HER?

“Right, so, she was like don’t worry, don’t worry, please, ‘cause I was like ‘oh nooooo’, I wasn’t acting, I wasn’t pretending, I thought it was all gonna happen again, She was like, please, I’m doing it, I’m working on it, don’t worry, you will hear something. So I went home.” DID YOU BELIEVE HER?

“I did believe her actually. I did and I didn’t, ‘cause I thought, she’s not gonna blatantly lie to my face like that, I wouldn’t have thought so, I did have a bit of faith in her, by the way she was looking right at me, going stop worrying, you know, and I just thought, you know I didn’t have any of this before. You know, I don’t know if the rules have changed, I still worried, you can’t help it can you? And then he gives me the next bit of the eviction, and I go back up there with that.”


“First, was my first time asking for some support, because I wasn’t working, I was on In the process of eviction and maternity leave and it took five months support, people have been for them to answer and to help me with advised to wait (or are deciding on their own to wait) until the something… Five months, my baby was final stages of the process born in August, I called them in August, before seeking support - that support workers will not provide September and I just start to receive more extensive support until the bailiffs arrive at the door. something in December.” Waiting to act

We believe people may be using this as a reason to not seek other channels of housing and/ or support. Also, citizens are not always proficient at planning.

“She said to me when the bailiffs actually turn up on the day she said you have to wait for them and then when they come they’ll give you a letter and you bring it straight down to John Smith House.”

“When I told [the fraud investigator] about what is happening the other day, she said the only thing you have to wait… you know the court can rule everybody has to come out of the house… when the court rule we have to come out of the house, we’ll be homeless then, and we don’t want to get to that point. I don’t want that.”

How might we support greater initiative for people to help themselves in the time leading up to eviction? How might we support citizens to plan?


“Oh, really worried. Oh my god, it was awful, it was absolutely awful at that time. My children were only young and all, got two girls. I was looking after my mum as well, and the anxiety it caused me was terrible - it didn’t really help matters actually… the bailiffs were turning up, so I had to pack up all my stuff up in a van and the bailiffs were on the doorstep.”

Physical, emotional & psychological state & empathy The situations people describe are anxiety inducing and stressful. There is potentially a gap between how people are feeling when they present for support and the mindset and place the frontline staff are in at the same time to support that person. Stress and anxiety will evoke particular self-sabotaging behaviour, for example, people refusing to open letters (burying their head), among other things. Communication thus needs to be concise and very simple. This stress may come as a result of debt and arrears, health issues, chaotic events, among others.

“When I was in John Smith House… there was a girl sitting there behind the counter, and she was sitting there rolling her eyes at everyone. You know, she’s sitting behind the counter, and you don’t want to be going into a place where you want help from to get someone like that, sitting there rolling their eyes at you. WHAT DO YOU THINK SHE THINKS OF THE PERSON SHE’S SPEAKING TO?

That they’re a piece of shit. Basically. So she’s better than them ’cause she’s sitting behind the desk. She’s probably got a nice house to go back to, she can control whether you get seen or not, and “I felt fobbed off, they just said OK all of this.” tomorrow go to Harlow. And I said well what am I meant to do in the meantime, and that was the mental health team, not the housing they put me into the B&B…”

How might we support a greater level of understanding and empathy among frontline staff? How might we better prepare staff to have calming and mindful conversations with people who may be highly anxious? —— How aware are the teams of the physical, emotional and psychological state of citizens? —— How aware are the teams of their own physical, emotional and psychological states? How much have they reflected on their own states of anxiety, stress, hope, frustration, etc?

—— Do teams understand why some level of empathy is important to understanding needs and providing the most relevant support? —— What is a balance for frontline staff who may experience fatigue and their own stress and anxiety in more stressful work conditions?


members are regularly reflecting on and feeding back their own emotions. / Citizens leave services feeling better than when they arrived.


Signposting Housing advice could more effectively signpost or social prescribe, which would require a collective effort to understand the third, fourth and health sector in the community. Most we spoke to did not believe they had been referred to other support.

“… but it’s just literally a leaflet on the wall, that’s all people have got in there and it’s not enough really… Either an actual physical point of reference, a person there, during working hours constantly, they’ve got means and access for, I don’t know about funds, but I’m sure they could… they could even, someone like myself or Sarah who lives there, just delegate there to be their support network.”


“We don’t know where to go, that’s the thing, because we haven’t been to council or anything. We don’t know where to start, or who to go to.”

How might we better support citizens by pointing them in the right direction to address their needs? —— What sort of conversation is required to signpost? What does needs assessment look like? —— How comfortable do staff feel about signposting? What do they assume about their role in that regard? —— What is required to do effective signposting?

—— What does the service need to be aware of regarding other services - funding cycles, programme times, service capacity, etc? —— What is already working well in places like Tower Hamlets? What could be done better?


“No.” “They referred me to a charity... I don’t know, they couldn’t help. Only thing, some of them said, go back to children’s services, they are better off to help.” “[John Smith House] referred me to social services, and social services said I should go back to them. They supposed to help me.” SO THEY SENT YOU BACK TO JOHN SMITH HOUSE. DID YOU GO BACK?

“I went back and they said they can’t help because there’s no recourse to public fund.” “Like I said, I’m trying, I’ve had to do it for myself. I referred myself.”


are aware of the significance of effective signposting and they understand ways to effectively signpost. / Organisations like the CVS and the NHS in LBBD co-develop the strategy around signposting/social prescribing in the council, and thus are ‘aligned’. / Citizens feel like they’ve ‘progressed’ or ‘moved forward’ as a result of signposting.


“No”. “If you can’t help people and that, just give them different options, just make, like I say, have leaflets, phone numbers. We can’t help you, but this place may be able to, here’s other options.” “I don’t know what to do, I don’t know where to go, I don’t know who else to go or any help. All I’ve been told is that you need to go to the housing, nothing else… No, I don’t know where to turn.”


Building ownership Citizens may or may not be in a place where only one outcome is possible for their situation, which is that they will have to leave London (unless there is a complete rethinking of how people are supported to try and stay in London).

“If they understand my situation, they would reason and think about it… They’re supposed to know! I told them, I’m working in London. I submitted my paper, my things. They still move me to another place, which I spend more money.”

“I was expecting that they were gonna help me to stay here in London, so I really had no choice, no choice, because I have to leave the house, so I said OK. Like I had to go to Bradford. That’s how I felt. Because if I have, then I’m gonna find myself in the street.”

How might we support a sense of ownership over citizens’ situations?


By my side / what support looks like I’ve received my most loving care from unexpected sources – my child’s head teacher, the hostel security guard, other residents of temporary accommodation, the council fraud investigator, individuals from local charities, the mental health team, from my probation officer, etc.

“The third time - you cannot believe it that, I’m very lucky person, I think because I’m good person, I had luck again - when one friend of mine, he told me that he knows someone who have an agency. And I told them that I didn’t have the deposit to pay, and what they did, what the guy did was OK, you can stay in the flat, and then you can pay the deposit OK, not everything at the same time…”

“She mediates between the council… she can speak to housing benefit on my behalf. She can speak to the council or the hostel staff on my behalf and she actually got more out of them than I did… But when she got involved she found out why I was in arrears and you know we took steps to then sort that out and it was actually a mistake on housing benefits part.”

People have support all around them - do they see it, know it and/or understand how to capitalise off of it?


“No, the council didn’t. My daughter’s school.”

“Very little, they didn’t seem to have any responsibility and didn’t want to take responsibility at that point for me, they just kind of… if it wasn’t for the mental health team pushing through, I’d be on the street now… I wouldn’t be here.”

How might housing support, catalyse and promote informal, nonstatutory support?


Landlords & power Landlords can be uncaring, abusive and exploitative. They may hinder a tenant’s ability to overcome stressful situations and find their way forward, and simply may not provide secure and sanitary conditions for living.

“About a month beforehand I tried to explain to him the situation and his answer to me was ‘if you can’t afford to pay the rent why should you live in my house’.”

“There’s so many things happening in the house now. The time the police come to that house, it can’t be counted, cause there was one day during the summer I went to drop my son to nursery, and I say, let me come to Barking for a walk. By the time I came to Barking, she sent me an email saying that she has changed the door locks. I couldn’t get back in, I had to call the police.” “And then private. I’ve had some terrible landlords from private. Overpriced and not good conditions, not secure.”

How might we better work with landlords so they are encouraging tenants not obstructing them?

—— How do citizens understand their relationship with their landlord? —— How is the council already working collaboratively with landlords? —— What are the barriers to a collaborative relationship with landlords?

—— Why is it important for landlords to have a more supportive and harmonious relationship with their tenants? OUTCOMES: Citizens

report more supportive, caring relationships with their landlords.


A dire situation People are taking risks with their and their family’s health and wellbeing because of their financial and housing situation (living in insufficient conditions) – enough risk and ill health has, in fact, pushed their situation along. It’s gotten bad enough. It has taken a dire situation and persistence from several people and those around them to get another level of support from the council.

“Because she could see that I was I was not in a good state of mind, and I had actually spoken to one of her colleagues who gave me a number for a counselling service, because I said to her my son for a couple of weeks actually refused to go to school because I was just really anxious all the time, I was crying a lot, I wasn't myself, my son was picking up on that and he didn't want to leave me - he didn't want to go to school. You know when I actually brought that to their attention and I said like my son was right there with me and I think they actually realized then.”

“I didn’t know the best way to do, I was staying there for the children, it was a bad situation.”

“At the end, one lady, again, I told her since August, I claimed, and I didn’t get anything yet, so I’m in this situation, I don’t know what to do, because now I’m in arrears, because I can’t make the payments and soon I’m going to lose the house, and she helped me again, that lady in the council, I don’t even know her name. She said stay on the line, I’m going to see what I can do for you, bla la la. When she came back, ‘you’re going to receive your payments in a couple of days, like two or three days’. Yes, it was like that.”





Staff outputs These are the outputs from the team kick-off workshop July 2018. These outputs shaped context and objectives for the engagement and research.

Our roles / tasks: —— Communication ―― Manage expectations ―― Encourage honesty ―― Answer member enquiries ―― Signpost —— Prevention / reducing demand —— Delivering homelessness service ―― Manage temporary accommodation ―― Procurement of temporary accommodation ―― Offer safe place ―― Oversee homelessness application decision —— Learning ―― Advice for universal workers ―― Quality assurance ―― Training processes —— Strategy ―― Planning / forecasting —— Change culture / reduce paternalism ―― “Break culture and tradition of pitching up at John Smith House” —— Data and design ―― Measuring and tracking performance ―― “… customer impact”


What we’d like to understand: —— What could the process for prevention look like? Where should services be positioned to maximise the opportunities for prevention? —— Empathic understanding of the experience of residents going through housing advice. ―― “Views of people who have been through the process” ―― “How people become homeless” ―― “A story” —— Distribution and management of resources ―― “Right people in right place” ―― “Knowledge about housing advice for front universal staff”

Challenges discussed:

Potential users:

How we engage with, speak to and learn from residents to understand needs is not clearly defined currently —— Procedure versus agile decision making (autonomy) – people are not making their own decisions based on intuition, best practice, awareness of the mission/ vision, etc.

—— Entitled / expectation that the council will take care of them (perhaps a legacy of being taken care of by the council, e.g. grew up in council flat, etc.)

—— People are not always aware of the fact that they are part of a system – people are not aware of how their work fits in to the larger vision/ strategy and how that fits with the other teams

—— In temporary accommodation ―― Those who’ve entered TA after Spring 2018 ―― Those who’ve entered TA before Spring 2018

—— We could do better to build learnings back into the way we work

—— How to engage with and feel comfortable with data ―― “… a lack of understanding” ―― “Quality of data, so we can trust” ―― “Balanced approach to understanding numbers”

—— There is a culture of paternalism internally – people are looking for others to act, make decisions and take risks in providing services to residents

—— How is what we’re learning impacting the bottom line? / How is data communicating external costs? ―― Understanding importance, value and ownership of data

—— How do we build ownership and alignment within the team?

—— What would homelessness service look like without John Smith House? —— What should an engagement space look like?

—— Victim – not responsible for their situation —— Lack of ambition

—— In Private Rented Sector / Assured shorthold tenancy —— White British mother ―― Single ―― Young mother 25–35 —— Bidding for a council house —— On benefits (child, housing, etc.) —— PTSD / trauma —— Single male —— Mental illness / anxious —— Drug and alcohol —— In rent arrears —— Applied to Universal Credit


Assumptions The ‘housing team’, from frontline to leadership, have a range of assumptions about the nature of housing, ‘the home’, what their role is and who they are serving, among others. These unspoken assumptions dictate a lot of the ways we interact with one another in the team and how we serve our citizens.

How might we create an open and safe dialogue about the team’s collective assumptions?

—— Are the teams aware that they are all carrying these assumptions? —— Are there ways these assumptions are already being explored and reflected on? —— When does the team feel most psychologically safe to express themselves? OUTCOMES: Teams

feel psychological safety to express how they feel, what they need and their assumptions about themselves and those around them. / There is a regular reflection about our assumptions, what we appreciate and what we’d like done differently.



Decision making, triangulation & decision fatigue Decision-making rights should reside at the lowest possible level in a system – frontline professionals, etc. Naturally, they are the closest to the reality of the situation.

Triangulation is a research term for having multiple perspectives attempting to describe reality – you see this, I’ve seen this and Bob has seen that, so what do we understand reality to be?

There should also be shared responsibility when it comes to making decisions.

How might we ensure that frontline staff are mostly responsible for decision making?

How might we support systematic triangulation, where multiple perspectives, as much as possible, are providing their input on decisions?

How do we create shared responsibility for decisions made?

—— How are decisions currently being made? —— Is there a formal process? —— Who is held responsible? —— Who is usually involved? —— What are the combination of ways that happens?

—— How much is triangulation already happening? —— How do people feel about making assumptions/ hypotheses on their own? —— What do we notice about hypotheses made from multiple perspectives? —— What’s the team capacity to regularly use triangulation?

—— Who is currently responsible, in policy and in practice? —— Who feels responsible? —— How do people feel about making several life-altering decisions daily or weekly? What toll does that take on people? —— What is feasible regarding a system for sharing decisions?

‘Critical’ decisions are defined and understood among the teams - decisions that are higher stress and/or are perceived as ‘high-stakes’ There are always at least two voices considered in any ‘critical’ decision, ideally three.

Everyone knows who is responsible. The team feels like others are being held accountable for decisions made.

Frontline staff are seen as the authority on any decision made.




LONDON, JUNE 2019 PROJECT BY AzuKo IN COLLABORATION WITH London Borough of Barking and Dagenham (LBBD) FUNDED BY Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s Ideas and Pioneers Fund PHOTOGRAPHY CREDITS FRONT/BACK COVER, PAGES 40—41, 46—47: Joao Fernandes PAGE 2: Suad Kamardeen PAGES 8—9: Huseyin Akuzum Brunel Johnson Nathan Rogers Brooks Leibee Andreea Popa GRAPHIC DESIGN Margherita Buzzi

AzuKo believes in open source, and that all its findings and creations should be shared with anyone who can benefit from it. AzuKo also grounds all of its work in a deep respect for its collaborators.

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Predicting homelessness  

In collaboration with the Community Solutions team at the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham we asked, how might qualitative research en...

Predicting homelessness  

In collaboration with the Community Solutions team at the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham we asked, how might qualitative research en...

Profile for azuko