Housing and homelessness
Action research project to understand the benefits, challenges and training supports required for the employment of peer advisors in Neami’s Way2Home homelessness support service.
Peer workers can enhance a consumer’s sense of hope, empowerment and quality of life by bringing an added level of mutuality and shared experience to direct support. Yet the employment of peer advisers in Neami’s homelessness outreach services is a relatively new undertaking. Neami partnered with the University of Sydney to better understand the benefits and challenges of peer roles in the homelessness outreach setting.
The study sought to explore the role and contributions made by peer advisers employed by a Neami homelessness outreach service, document the challenges involved in introducing peer roles into this type of service, and to collaboratively devise strategies to address the challenges. The study collected the experiences of both peer advisers and non-peer staff, to better understand the benefits and challenges from a range of perspectives.
Key themes emerged:
- Realising the skills of peer advisers – peer workers have unique skills in rapport-building, responding to crises and risk assessment. This, alongside a nuanced understanding of the needs and contexts of service users, can significantly increase Neami’s capacity to respond to the needs of service users
- Defining the role – unclear boundaries and roles have adverse implications for both peer and non-peer staff
- Taking a ‘whole of team’ approach – organisational structures that support team readiness for diverse, evolving roles and mutual learning between peer and non-peer staff are crucial
- Reflecting on power – inadequate hours, unacknowledged skills and systemic injustices impact peer workers’ ability to effectively perform their roles
These findings demonstrate how services can benefit from the unique skills of peer workers, whilst acknowledging the importance of organisational structures that support effective collaboration between peer and non-peer workers. They can be seen as an invitation to organisations to envision optimal ways to incorporate experiential knowledge into service design and delivery.