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The
Community
Psychologist

Volume 48 Number 3 
Summer 2015

Special Feature

Working to End Homelessness: Emmaus Brighton a Case of Community Wellbeing

emmaus2small.pngWritten by Bruno De Oliveira (b.deoliveira2@brighton.ac.uk)

University of Brighton (UK), School of Applied Social Sciences, Academic Medical Center, University of Brighton, Brighton , BN1 9PH UK


 Introduction

Homelessness in the UK is sometimes direct linked to people sleeping rough. However, those people sleeping rough as the evidence suggests are only partial representation of the problem of those without secure accommodation (Wright and Tompkins, 2006). That is, there are also some people that are staying in emergency hostels, there are refuges and there are people that are not sleeping rough but do not have any permanent accommodation such as people temporarily with friends, squatting or as part of a travelers community. Homelessness is a common story of current UK’s society. In England alone, there are approximately 61,000 households were documented as newly homeless in 2010, with over 2,100 individuals sleeping on the streets during Autumn 2011 (Department for Communities & Local Government, 2012a,b). There are a wide variety of reasons people become homeless such relationship break down, domestic violence and substance misuse, people that are release from prison, people that are release from psychiatrical institutions, people in debt, children that are institutionalized as asylum seekers and refuges (Wright and Tompkins, 2006).

 

emmaussmall.pngEmmaus Communities are predominantly self-funded through the sale of donated and recycled goods with Companions contributing through work as much as they are able with profits going to help others in greater need. Solidarity is at the heart of the Emmaus movement and is interpreted as meaning “helping those who suffer most” - a statement which you will see is written above the doors to our loading bay at the entrance to the Community. The belief is that once a Companion has a place in an Emmaus Community, they are provided with shelter, food, warmth, companionship, but, there are others who are in greater need elsewhere in the community. Companions are encouraged to actively get involved in solidarity work. This occurs on a local, national and international level. Some examples of the types of projects supported by the Emmaus Brighton & Hove Companions are: Local: Soup Run on the seafront, giving sleeping bags, warm clothing, footwear to local charities working with rough sleepers, maintenance projects at Brighton Voices in Exile and Off the Fence. Emmaus Brighton & Hove is committed to working as a Community, sharing a life where everyone is treated equally, and living together in harmony and with dignity by helping those less fortunate than ourselves.

Purpose of the study

To provide the Emmaus Brighton & Hove management committee and Board of trustees with a report (to follow up from last year’s report) conducted with the Companions (residents) to explore the social side of life in the Community. The aims were three-fold: To explore what are the advantages and disadvantages of living in a Community of 48 people, looking also if the Community has reached its maximum capacity looking mainly at the sense of community provided at Emmaus. To evaluate if the Community has reached its maximum capacity interrogating how that could affect the sense of community and open the scope for the possibility of expanding the model and to explore the sense of community at Emmaus Brighton.

 Methods

Between January, 2015 and April, 2015, questionnaires and semi-structure interviews were carried out with residents (Companions) of the Community. Out of the 48 Companions, 19 of them answered the questionnaire which was followed by 5 in depth semi-structured interviews. It is important to note that the researcher and the organization developed in collaboration both the questionnaire and the interview questions.  Participants were recruited through an open invite to all residents of Emmaus, explaining the purpose of the research and asking if they would like to take part. The participants varied in the length of time they had been living in the Community ranging from a few weeks to sixteen years.  

Findings

From the range of the questionnaires it became clear that the participants had great sense of community. In addition, there is mutual feeling that the community is on just the right size which contrasts with last year’s research that indicated that the community was on the verge of becoming over-stretched. This section will be focusing on primary 5 questions of the 16 questions asked on the questionnaire. Firstly, that the questionnaire findings suggest that the Companions who answered the questionnaire (which were 19 companions) indicate that there has been an increase of those experiencing a sense of community at Emmaus Brighton. Moreover, it became clear that from the sample of Companions that had taken part in the questionnaire that there is great sense of community. Eighteen of the 19 participants answered that they strongly or somewhat agreed that they feel that there is a sense of a community at Emmaus Brighton. Only 1 of the participants said that s/he somewhat disagreed that there is a sense of a community at the organization. A person’s membership in a group is the most important source of power in modern society, contending that the homeless person without a stable social network is powerless and socially disaffiliated (William and Stickley, 2011). The evidence suggests, based on this current data, that there is a strong sense of community at Emmaus Brighton and it has increased. Secondly, that the 2014’s questionnaire findings suggested that the Companions believed that the Community has reached its maximum capacity with its 48 residents. The evidence indicates that still the case as 80% of the participants either strongly agree or somewhat agree that the Community is stretched given the number of Companions. The reasons of why the participants think that the Community is stretched will be explored on the interviews.

The questionnaire in 2014 revealed also that 80% of the participants agreed that the transition to semi-independent accommodation is something of importance for the Companions. This year’s questionnaire revealed that 100% of the participants agreed that the transition to semi-independently accommodation is something of importance for the Companions and that it is something that Emmaus should do more of and that fits well with the wider literature on the topic. It indicates that the Community is growing stronger as the sense of community and the possibility of independently living has increased. For example, one study presented in the Journal of Community Psychology by Patterson and Tweed (2009) identified key factors facilitating escape from homelessness. In Section 1, 58 homeless individuals rated possible facilitators of escape (factors they believed would help them become more independent and self-sufficient). In Section 2, 80 participants who had already escaped homelessness rated the same facilitators, factors that would have helped them become more independent and self-sufficient, and the importance of actual factors that facilitated escape (Patterson & Tweed, 2009).  In addition, in 2014 when Companions were asked [see charts below] what aspect of Emmaus was the most important - sense of community (32%), friendship made at Emmaus (16%) and skills learnt (16%) also come out as the three most important factors for the participants. This year Companions answered that the most important is still the sense of community which remained at 32%, skills learnt (26%) and financial rewards (21%), come out as the three most important factors for the participants. There is a correlation suggested by the data that links with Patterson and Tweed (2009) study that formerly homeless people who reported perceived facilitators of escape, however, also reported that their escape was facilitated by realization of their own abilities and potential to offer something to the world. The findings have implications for the design of community interventions helping individuals who are homeless (Patterson & Tweed, 2009; Daly, et al 2012). 

This sense of community is important for the Companions to overcome the difficult time that they had. Thus, this sense of community found at Emmaus is significant to help Companions to regain their sense of identity. For Example, Participant 2 said that the sense of community at Emmaus - “It is like being part of a big family here - there is always someone who you can talk to. You are never alone and we understand each other.” The sense of community found at Emmaus is still an important factor for the Companion’s well-being because many people who are homeless have very little social support. Up to half of the people staying in hostels have no recognisable social contacts with family or friends. Social networks are even more restricted for people with mental illness. These contacts are often restricted to people such as other hostel residents, and tend to diminish over time (Read, 2008). In addition, 18 out of the 19 interviewees either strongly agree or somewhat agree that there are enough leisure activities organised by the Community which can be also seen as a positive aspect in regards to community well-being. Three themes will be explored during the interviews that could help the Community overall follow up from last year’s report. Firstly, it seems that there is a consensus among the Companions that there is a sense of community, but what is a sense of community for the Companions and how can it be empowered more? Secondly, what opportunities should Emmaus offer to help Companions to develop their skills in the work place? Finally, how can new Companions been encouraged by staff and other members of Emmaus to join and experience the sense of community? The evidence presented in this report indicates that a range of key psychological experiences can be regarded as positive for the Companions linked to mental well-being provided by the Community, and are sensitive to a steady progress. It is therefore crucial that Emmaus keep researching those themes annually, considering the psychological impacts of current and future policies. Emmaus is creating the conditions for wellbeing and resilience directly helping to prevent distress in the short and long term. Human well-being, Community emancipation and social justice are framed as a utopia by the dystopia of ‘long term economic plan’. However, Emmaus is a community that significant social change is possible. The less and less power that the people have the more valid a system is faked to be. The death of community empowerment and human solidarity has been for the last 30 years also so a project designed, legitimized, normalized and imposed. Community is to be feared by any oppressive system because it is too powerful because community action can shape society and the world butter than many political policies or many psychological therapies. The system is there to silence community but community is there to change the system and its oppression such as homelessness. Emmaus Brighton is to some extent a historical embodiment people’s power shaping their world.

References

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Daly, A. et al (2012). From home to home: homelessness during austere times. Housing, Care and Support15, 3, 109-119.

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