Knocked Back: My journey of lived experience and peer research

Phil Knocked Back Peer Researcher

Phil previously slept rough and struggled with drug and alcohol problems. Today he is based in Stoke-on-Trent and is working as a peer researcher. Phil conducted interviews for our new report Knocked Back. He reflects on the findings of this research.

As someone with lived experience of rough sleeping and addiction, the opportunity to be involved in St Mungo’s research was a really valuable one. The new report Knocked Back: failing to support people sleeping rough with drug and alcohol problems contained many findings which resonated with my own experiences, including:

  • At least 12,000 people sleeping rough, or at risk of doing so, went without vital drug and alcohol treatment in England last year.
  • Six in 10 people sleeping rough in London have a drug or alcohol problem, up from five in 10 people in 2014-15.
  • Rough sleeping and drug and alcohol problems are closely associated with traumatic experiences and isolation which often precede someone’s first night sleeping rough.

As a peer researcher with Expert Citizens C.I.C I helped to carry out some of the research in the report in my own community of Stoke-on-Trent. I was part of a team that facilitated two workshops with people who had experience of homelessness and addiction. I also personally interviewed people with lived experience and staff and commissioners about these issues.

I feel my lived experience made it possible for me to fully understand the questions we needed to ask and the best way to go about this. 12 years ago, I was rough sleeping and in the middle of addiction – I know how much this can affect someone’s ability to access services.

I was young but had already been through the system a few times, stayed in multiple hostels and spent the odd night beneath the stars. I had also attempted to live what in society’s eyes was a ‘normal’ life working and living with my partner. However, because of things that happened in my childhood and everything since, I found this hard to sustain.

When I ended up on the streets, the only option available in the area was a night shelter. There were only eight beds to accommodate a huge homeless contingent and it couldn’t be accessed under the influence of any substance. There was also a day centre open six days a week, which also had a strict policy on people not being under the influence

Both facilities seemed to lack the necessary flexibility for me. They also lacked any kind of understanding that being street homeless and having an addiction is less of a lifestyle choice and more of a culmination, in my case, of traumatic experiences that led me down a path where I felt I had little or no choice.

Physical and emotional barriers and high expectations lead to people going without the support they need. This is something which I feel this new research captures really well, and the recommendations outline what needs to change.

The most important recommendations for me, are to ensure that services work in a trauma/psychologically informed way and on a person-centred basis. Only then will we see possible changes in outcome. Services should look at the way success is measured and identify if this suits the service and the people using them, adjusting if necessary. Funding is of course necessary to achieve this.

If I had to change one thing, it would be to ensure we have more specialised services, that can work with people who have both mental health and drug and alcohol problems, this is sometimes called a dual diagnosis. I feel this would greatly reduce the numbers of deaths on the streets and the number of people being ‘knocked back’ from vital support.

It was an excellent opportunity contribute to this research and use my experiences to interview people currently in need. I hope that local and national politicians take its recommendations on board and deliver the change we need.

Read our Knocked Back research.