13 December 2018

From rough sleeper to DUO researcher

Students on the Social Policy and Public Health pre-master’s and master's programmes and student assistants, together with former users of the services, have interviewed a large number of users of Community Support (Maatschappelijke Opvang) and Supported Housing (Beschermd Wonen) services. A gathering to celebrate the successful completion of the first phase of the Long-term research around Community Support and Supported Housing services (Prospectief Onderzoek Maatschappelijke Opvang en Beschermd Wonen) project commended the input of these former service users, which significantly enhanced the quality of these interviews. Dr Nienke Boesveldt (ISS) is the lead researcher.

'Clearly, in many cases people instantly felt at ease with you. As a result, they were extremely open, and that resulted in really good data.' 'You asked crucial questions that I hadn’t thought of. The fact that you could identify with the users of the services so well really added value to the research.' The six former users of the services who helped conduct the DUO research were given countless compliments. Before the interviews were conducted they had received extensive training and, on 11 December 2018, they were awarded certificates for this in the University Hall.

Recognising the problems

These former users of the services know from personal experience, often due to mental health and addiction problems, what it’s like to have to rely on Supported Housing or Community Support. Together with the students, they interviewed 60 users of these services. And they themselves also realised the value they added to the interviews. Robbert: 'Clients really like it when someone asks them questions on an equal footing. If, when you interview them, you tell them what you have gone through yourself, they’re more inclined to open up. When you've experienced the issues yourself, you realise at an earlier stage if someone would prefer not to talk about something, because you recognise the problems involved. Sometimes you sense that there’s more to something than they’re letting on, in which case you can ask them more questions.' And: 'The conversations were sometimes extremely difficult and emotional and, in that case, I could put things into perspective for my fellow researcher Sascha.'

Last Monday, one of the former service users, former rough sleeper Edo Paardekooper Overman was awarded the MensenrechtenMens 2018 prizefor his work with the homeless and people with addiction and mental health problems. He was unable to attend the award ceremony because he was at a meeting with the Health Minister, Paul Blokhuis.

Client at the centre

The research relates to ‘integration within the community and regionalisation of users of Community Support and Supported Housing services’ and is being conducted on behalf of local authorities. Since 2015, local authorities have been required to reduce the amount of institutional housing and to enable people to live independently wherever possible (‘integration within the community’). At the same time, budgets, tasks and responsibilities must be divided across multiple local authorities (‘regionalisation’). Nienke Boesveldt and her team have now researched how service users feel about this development in three regions. 'People who live in Supported Housing generally want to live independently, under specific conditions', explains Boesveldt, based on the results of the research. 'They said in the interviews that they needed support during the transition to independent living, and specific help with debts or budgeting, for example. Users of Community Support facilities (e.g. night shelters) feel they receive little support and don't feel very safe. Generally speaking, they are keen to get out as quickly as they can.'

Third source of knowledge

Fellow researcher and trainer Maarten Davelaar trained this first pool of former service users over the course of three training days. 'They learned the basic principles of research and interview techniques, and what to look out for in in-depth interviews. We practised a lot and gave each other feedback. It was a shared process. The former service users took the student researchers to task if they had preconceived ideas. With this kind of participatory research, you hope for different outcomes from the research; knowledge acquired from experience is an important third source of knowledge, alongside professional and scientific knowledge.'

Further research

Nienke Boesveldt can now submit the initial research reports to the local authorities involved. The idea is that the researchers will monitor the service users and interview them again in future years. And the research is expanding to include a number of new regions. There is already a new group of trained former service users waiting in the wings.