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On this page you will find a summary of some of the

research and evidence that supports the way the project works. If you would like to read the research in full, please click on the research page and you will find the links.

Why this project is needed.

An upright book with gaps between the pages. Light is coming from the pages into a dark room.

The need for literacy support.

Research shows that many people who have been homeless have difficulties

with reading or writing or need support with their English. Research by different organisations has found the following:

  • Assessments with 139 St Mungo’s Broadway clients found that 51% did not have basic English skills (i.e. would not achieve a grade G at GCSE). This compares to 15% of the overall adult population. (St Mungos, 2014)

  • 19% of people who are homeless have difficulties reading and writing (compared to 2% of the general population) (Luby and Walsh, 2006)

  • A survey of Thames Reach service users was carried out amongst 101 people in supported housing, found that

​1.Over a third had difficulty understanding what they read.

2.55% needed help to fill in forms.

3.46% had trouble writing letters. (Olisa, Patterson, Wright, 2010)

Many people who are homeless want to get better at reading and writing. Research by Thames Reach found that ‘…60% of participants would like the chance to further improve their reading, their writing or both.’ (Olisa et al, 2010). Lower levels of literacy have been shown to have a big impact in many areas of people’s lives. This includes recovery from drugs and alcohol and physical and mental health (St Mungos, 2014).

A person with a dark cloud overhead. This symbolises the difficulties trauma may cause for learning.

To read a definition of trauma, click here

Evidence shows that people who have been homeless are more likely to have experienced trauma than those who have not been homeless. Studies have found that up to 85% have had at least one traumatic experience in childhood (Bramley et al, 2015).

The need for a trauma informed approach

Becoming and being homeless is also traumatising. People who are homeless are at more risk of abuse and violence than those who are not homeless. Research by Crisis in 2016 found that among rough sleepers:

  • 35% have been deliberately hit or kicked or experienced some other form of violence whilst homeless.

  • 48% have been intimidated or threatened with violence whilst homeless.

  • 59% have had been verbally abused or harassed whilst homeless (Sanders and Albanese (2016).

Trauma and learning

It is important to say that people who experience trauma are affected by it in

different ways. People can also recover from the effects of trauma with the right care and support.

For some people, experiencing trauma, especially in childhood, can affect the way their brain works. This can affect the way they learn, both as children and adults.

Brunzell, Waters and Stokes (2015) state that experiences of trauma ‘…can dramatically affect learning through:

  • Decreased cognitive capacity.

  • Poor memory and concentration.

  • Language delays.

  • The inability to create and sustain positive relationships with peers, teachers and carers.’

In the words of Dr Bruce Perry:

'The key to understanding the long-term impact of trauma on an adult learner is to remember that he or she is often, at baseline, in a state of lowlevel fear...The major challenge to the educator working with highly stressed or traumatized adults is to furnish the structure, predictability, and sense of safety that can help them begin to feel safe enough to learn.' (Perry, 2006)

With the right support, people can recover from experiencing trauma. They can learn and develop their skills. They can achieve great things. Trauma informed approaches are one way to support people to recover from trauma.  The Reading, Writing and ESOL Project is based on trauma informed principles. To read more about what this means in practice, please click on the ‘What the project does’ page


The need for flexible, one to one learning

Many people who have been homeless face difficulties getting help to improve skills. As Kate Jones (2018) states ‘The available evidence suggests that homeless people are often excluded from opportunities and support offered by adult colleges and other private training providers (Barton et al., 2006; Luby and Welch, 2006; Reisenberger et al., 2010; Olisa et al., 2010; Dumoulin and Jones, 2014)’

People with experience of homelessness often have a number of support needs. A survey of hostel residents by St Mungos found that 51% had mental health issues, 52% reported problematic drug use and 47% had physical health problems (St Mungos, 2015). This may mean that in their daily lives, they will have many different priorities.

For people in this situation, formal education, for example at college, can be difficult. Going to classes regularly and consistently may not be possible. Learning opportunities through charities and community organisations can be more flexible and provides vital support. However, learners may be asked to attend regularly from the point that they begin taking part, which can present difficulties. In addition, many organisations offer learning support in group settings. While having many benefits, this can be another challenge, especially for people whose level of literacy is very low. They may feel embarrassed about not being able to read and write as well as other people.

The Reading, Writing and ESOL Project offers one to one sessions at a time and place agreed with the learner. This brings the service to them and removes the possible challenge of a group setting. In the longer term, when it is safe to do so, the hope is to also offer group sessions. Learners will be encouraged to attend group activities when they are ready, as these have many evidenced benefits, both educationally and socially. While regular attendance is an aim of the project, learners do not have to be able to commit to this from the beginning of their studies. It is something they can work towards over time. If a learner misses lessons the reasons for this will be discussed with them and we will look together for ways to make attending easier.


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