Mediation Skills for Homelessness Prevention

Scott McIver Articles

Back in April, we saw one of the biggest changes to the rights of homeless people for over 15 years. This was, of course, the Homelessness Reduction Act, which offered legal duties to both prevent and relieve homelessness, in addition to the usual rehousing and support. This signified a major shift in focus, essentially trying to prevent an individual from ending up on the streets before it actually happens.

To comply with the new legislation, local councils and the government now have a legally-binding duty to provide a wider range of services and protocols, including information and advice. As such, we have seen many charities, housing associations and local authorities approach us in the last few months, seeking to provide mediation as one of those new services.

And it’s for good reason. Mediation is considered to be an effective preventative measure for homelessness, resolving the conflict that so commonly leads to individuals ending up sleeping rough. When you consider that 59% of homelessness cases in young people are as a result of being forced to leave their home by a family member1, this is an important aspect that needs to be tackled.

How can conflict cause homelessness?

• With an estimated 130,000 young people living with a high risk of domestic abuse2, it’s easy to see why this is seen as a common cause of homelessness. They may just want to get away from it all, regardless of whether they have a safe fall-back option or not.
• A natural desire for independence in teenagers, combined with a need for attention, could lead to behavioural boundaries being pushed. If the parent/carer reacts by tightening these boundaries and becomes “overbearing”, the conflict could worsen to the point where the young person is kicked out or runs away.
• Latest figures suggest that 10% of children and young people (aged 5-16 years) have a clinically diagnosable mental illness3, which often plays a huge role in potential homelessness. The parents or carer may not know how to correctly deal with these issues, which again could lead to conflict.
• In some families, the guardians don’t care, or don’t know, what the young person is doing. This could be a result of their own upbringing, a lack of parenting skills or perhaps even their own personal issues.

Like other forms of mediation, mediation for family and tenancy relationships relies on the same core principles. The process is voluntary, confidential and provided by an impartial third party, all of which have their own benefits that make mediation a popular method of resolution.

The aim, however, for this particular area is for the family to come up with their own realistic, future-focused solutions with which to go forward with. This could be with a view to bringing the individual at risk back into the home, or to support them as they move out in an amicable and dignified manner.

Why is mediation so effective in this particular setting?

• It re-opens and re-establishes communication, providing an opportunity for both parties to hear one another’s side of the story, as well as how it is has affected them.
• It aids in explaining motivations of why they act, say, and do what they do. This promotes a greater understanding between the disputants, whilst also building empathy.
• In previous communications, there may well be things that a party might have been afraid to say for fear of reprisal or judgment. In a safe, secure, and confidential environment, they can air the things that have so far gone unsaid. Again, this can help build a better understanding between the disputants.
• Mediation helps the parties move away from the idea of winners and losers and, instead, works towards a third option that works for everyone. Having this sort of dialogue shifts the focus to one of collaboration, rather than competition.

It is for these reasons that we have developed our Mediation Skills for Homelessness Prevention course.

Provided in-house at your location, it is tailored towards those on the front lines of the fight against homelessness, namely housing offices, neighbourhood managers, housing associations, local authorities, and housing charities.

It aims to train your group to resolve disputes between people at risk of homelessness and their family or landlord via a structured method, using the proven step-by-step model utilised by mediators.

What does the course teach you and your team?

• The difference between mediation and other forms of conflict resolution, recognising the advantages and disadvantages in comparison
• The tried and tested step-by-step process of mediation
• How to remain impartial throughout
• The importance of disclosure and confidentiality, and when each is appropriate
• Avoiding a conflict of roles when using the newly-found mediation skills
• Dealing with people’s resistance before and during the mediation
• Using mediation skills constructively, safely, and effectively

With the number of homeless individuals seemingly ever-increasing, as well as the added pressure on those tasked to deal with it, we can only anticipate more organisations turning to mediation and other forms of prevention.

However, by incorporating mediation skills into the outstanding work that these organisations continue to do, we hope that a few more individuals can stay in a safe and secure environment, without the fear of potentially ending up on the streets.

Find out more about our Mediation For Homelessness Prevention course
Watch our free webinar, ‘Preventing Homelessness with Mediation
Qualify your team as accredited mediators with our Interpersonal Mediation Practitioner’s Certificate
Book your place at one of our free mediation showcases

1Statistics & Useful Information‘, SCCR, 2018
2Insights into Domestic Abuse‘, caada, 2012
3Mental health statistics: children and young people‘, Mental Health Foundation, 2008