Sounding Off: An Investigation of Visible Street Homelessness in Newcastle-upon-Tyne


This website is both a vehicle for and accompaniment to ‘Sounding Off: An Investigation of Visible Street Homelessness in Newcastle-upon-Tyne’ – an interactive sound-walk curated by researchers from Northumbria University for the Economic and Social Research Council’s Festival of Social Science (2015).

On the adjacent pages, as well as on the Sounding Off Map, you will find details of the locations of eight Quick Response (QR) codes – each one based in an area of the city identified as having material and symbolic significance to homeless people.

Each QR code serves as a gateway to the wide range of sound, image and text resources contained here. Together, these offer important insights into the experiential aspects of street homelessness as well as the key policy and service issues raised.

The aim of the sound-walk is to promote a more nuanced public understanding and discussion of visible street homelessness.

The Research Methodology

The project began in September 2015. Having discussed the project with representatives of Newcastle City Council and the city’s Multiple Exclusion Team, stakeholders signposted the research team (Oliver Moss and Adele Irving) to individuals either recently or currently rough sleeping. Where consent was given, a series of initial exploratory interviews were undertaken. The aim was to gain an understanding of these individuals’ pathways into – and, in some cases, out of – homelessness, as well as their experiences and concerns as homeless people. The interviews were recorded, transcribed and subsequently distilled into short ‘testimonies’ of a few minutes duration. While this inevitably stripped away some of their detail, the research team – by working collaboratively with the participants and using their words throughout – aimed to preserve as much of their essence and impact as possible. A number of participants welcomed the opportunity to revisit their testimony in ways often not possible in the more episodic situation of interview. Participants were then asked to read their testimony aloud for the purposes of recording and sharing their stories with the public. With the support and assistance of sound artist Rachael Hales, the resulting audio was blended and spliced with recordings undertaken in the field locations highlighted.

The ‘stories’ presented on this website are not held up as being representative of those of the city’s wider street homeless community. We hope, however, that they do provide useful and much-needed insight into the ‘back stories’ of just some of those we see on our streets; many of whom we will pass daily without ever gaining a full understanding of their situation. Even in this regard, though, we would offer caution; for as several of the participants made clear, while they may be currently sleeping rough, they also make every effort to present themselves in ways that offer no clue as to their circumstances.

Following this, the research team worked with Newcastle City Council to reflect on the participants’ stories and identify the key structural, systemic and individual factors shaping their experiences of homelessness. Local councillors, stakeholders working with homeless people in the city from a range of sectors – including housing, homelessness, criminal justice and health – and academics were then asked to provide statements on these issues.

Homelessness in Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Newcastle City Council aims to ensure that no-one in Newcastle needs to be homeless. However, as Sounding Off demonstrates, achieving this is often complicated by individual circumstances, statutory duties and funding arrangements for different categories of people at risk of homelessness.

In order to prevent street homelessness, a street outreach service goes out 7 days a week to look for people who are asleep on the streets or who look as if they have been sleeping rough. They encourage people to take up offers of accommodation and to go to a day centre to get warm, have food, a hot drink and a shower. The outreach service will also engage with people who are begging in the city and seek to find out if they need accommodation or support from other services.

Most people can be found accommodation within a day. However for a small number of people, this may be more difficult because they may have a reason for not wanting to accept the accommodation they are offered, the accommodation provider thinks that they may pose a risk to others if they stay in their accommodation or because national entitlement rules for access to public funds and funding regimes limit the support to which they are entitled. Even in these circumstances, however, the outreach services will continue to work with individuals until a solution can be found.

If someone has accommodation (or is staying with friends and family) but is worried about losing this, the Housing Advice Centre (HAC) will offer help and support to either help them remain in their home; or, where that isn’t possible, find alternative safe and secure accommodation.

The local authority also commissions 832 units of accommodation and 1,000 floating support places for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, including those with complex needs, young people and people with mental health problems who require specialist housing support. In addition, it also directly provides 45 units of statutory emergency accommodation.

The city’s homelessness services are highly effective. By offering appropriate preventative options, statutory homeless cases have decreased from 1,038 cases in 2003-4 to 161 in 2014-15. Evictions from social tenancies have decreased from 197 cases in 2007-8 to 62 in 2014-15, following the implementation of a preventions protocol. The numbers of people requiring crisis or supported accommodation has decreased from 2,418 admissions in 2003-4 to 1,435 in 2014-15. Bed and breakfast accommodation has not been used to accommodate homeless people since 2006. In 2014-15, partners in Newcastle helped 4,192 households to prevent homelessness. However, despite the hard work of agencies, current services and approaches do not always work for everyone and more needs to be done to find solutions for these individuals.

Engaging with Sounding Off

All of the sound, image and text resources developed and collected during the course of this project can be accessed elsewhere on this website. However, we would encourage you to engage with as many of the QR codes as possible in place and to immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and other sensory details of these locations.

Compressed mp3 for streaming

High quality .wav

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