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Supporting the social networks of homeless people

Louise Joly (Research Fellow based at Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King's College London, London, UK)
Michelle Cornes (Senior Research Fellow at Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King's College London, London, UK)
Jill Manthorpe (Professor of Social Work are based at Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King's College London, London, UK)

Housing, Care and Support

ISSN: 1460-8790

Article publication date: 9 December 2014

Issue publication date: 9 December 2014




Homelessness often results from the loss of social networks and individuals are tested in being able to sustain or develop new positive social networks necessary to rebuild lives. The purpose of this paper is to present findings from an exploratory study which investigated how different agencies and professionals support people experiencing multiple exclusion homelessness (MEH) to develop and maintain their social networks amid other competing priorities, such as reducing substance misuse and re-offending.


The study was undertaken in England 2010-2011 in three case study sites. Data were collected in 76 interviews with practitioners and managers, from disciplines including housing support, social work, criminal justice, mental health and substance misuse services. Totally, 56 interviews and five focus groups were also undertaken with people with experiences of MEH. Data were analysed thematically. Data from one site in particular permitted a focus on personal relationships and social networks which were seen as beneficial but also potentially problematic. These data are drawn upon to reflect on the implications for housing providers and practitioners.


While multiple factors had often led to the loss of social networks among homeless people, findings revealed that practitioners working with homeless people may be able to promote existing social networks, such as partnerships, help develop new ones, and support people withdrawing from less positive relationships. The authors conclude that practitioners should be alert to structural changes that threaten social networks and may need to enhance skills in creating opportunities to foster existing positive relationships in direct work with their clients and in collaboration with other professionals. The need to be careful of blurring professional boundaries is also observed.

Practical implications

This paper suggests approaches that may encourage practitioner reflection and commissioning practice in achieving good outcomes for people with experiences of MEH by highlighting the importance of social networks and the potential for practitioners to foster supportive relationships.


This paper considers the often under-researched area of day-to-day engagement with social networks and the implications of working to support these as part of the role of homelessness services. While drawing primarily on recent research in England the themes raised will have wider relevance to housing and care services generally.



The authors would like to thank the ESRC and their partners for funding this research, and all study participants. The views expressed in the paper are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the funders. The authors are most grateful to all study participants and those who facilitated fieldwork and acted as study advisers.


Joly, L., Cornes, M. and Manthorpe, J. (2014), "Supporting the social networks of homeless people", Housing, Care and Support, Vol. 17 No. 4, pp. 198-207.



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Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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