This Summer I worked with CoLab’s Exeter Homeless Partnership to try and understand how Covid-19 has impacted those with lived experience of homelessness.
The parameters of the project were:
- Documenting people’s experiences firsthand.
- Making sure we engaged with a range of individuals in different circumstances.
- Making the engagement process meaningful and accessible.
We were going to need to get out to different locations and speak to people. But how to document people’s experiences? Some obvious options were:
- A questionnaire - thorough, but potentially off-putting/impersonal, and assumes confidence in literacy.
- A microphone to ‘interview’ people. More personal, but perhaps intimidating and puts people on the spot.
So we arrived at a new idea, a collection of postboxes and postcards that participants could fill out and ‘post’ to different topics. The postboxes were addressed to ‘services’, ‘community’, ‘the future’ and ‘how I feel’. Participants were welcome to write as many postcards to as many postboxes as they liked and those who preferred not to write were happy for ‘post’ notes from our conversations on their behalf (this was the preferred way of engaging for the majority of participants). Every conversation started with the question ‘How has Covid-19 affected your life?’. All participants knew their contributions would be seen by services.
We (CoLab staff, volunteers, Richard Todd – a wonderful advocate for homeless people with lived experience, and I) took the postboxes to three locations (CoLab, Great Western Hotel (who housed 30+ homeless people during the pandemic) and St. Petrocks (a charity for Exeter’s homeless and vulnerably housed). We set up a gazebo with hot drinks and biscuits, had lots of conversations and collected 116 postcards.
These postcards will be made into a booklet with annotations. The booklet will be available digitally and in print to homelessness services. The digital copy of the book will be available here by September.
The experiences on the postcards were wide ranging with some common themes. Many felt that Covid-19 had barely affected them, just another layer of instability on top of many. A new question to reflect on became ‘what does it say about a group of people’s instability and also resilience, when a global pandemic is off little consequence?’.
Of course, for many it had been enormously impactful; increased isolation, frustration and confusion with services, fear of becoming ill and contagious, and for some, increased hope of being housed and having vulnerabilities recognized by services.
Very few cards were addressed to ‘the future’, there wasn’t much speculation about that. Most cards were addressed to ‘services’ and called for action and pragmatism.