Reconnection or Dispersal
What is this intervention?
Reconnection interventions encourage those experiencing homelessness to return to an area where they have history of familiarity. This relocation should be assessed by a support worker, but usually the receiving areas are places where they have adult family members currently residing, where they have lived previously, or where they have a right to access services.
Reconnection interventions first began in England in the mid 2000s to decrease the large number of homeless people who were living on the streets of the capital. The homeless crisis still affects some areas more than others. Homeless people may travel to areas that are popular with tourists, where the weather is better, or where they have fond memories of holidays from childhood. When these areas become financially under sourced, local authorities may deal with this by removing access to services for those whom are not viewed as ‘local’ and they may remove support from those homeless individuals who are not a priority need. As most homeless accommodation requires that individuals have a local connection, many homeless individuals may find that their situation quickly becomes perilous.
Although the reconnection intervention will vary considerably from council to council, the responsible body should first attempt to acquire agreement and consent from the homeless individual. Next, an assessment of the level and type of support the homeless person requires should be conducted. The support worker should also ensure, sometimes through approaching the police services directly, whether it is safe or legal for the individual to be reconnected to the familiar area. If the person can return, the responsible body should then inform the support services in the familiar area and ensure that the individual will have access to the services when they arrive. Finally, the reconnection phase is where the homeless individual receives a one-way travel ticket, and often will be accompanied by the support worker to board the mode of transport.
The amount of support offered will vary considerably across reconnection interventions but sometimes the support worker will later request notification that the homeless individual is being supported by the relevant services, although client follow-up is quite rare.
The majority of reconnections are to areas that are proximally close and the population targeted will include those whom have additional and complex needs.
Problems with reconnection occur when the person is not able or willing to return to a familiar area. If an individual has left their familiar location to seek refuge from harm then exceptions are usually made and alternative suggestions are proposed. Some homeless individuals may be asked, or told, to reconnect to an area that is familiar to them, but not the area in which their children live. If the parent receives visitation or access to their child, they may fear losing this relationship and refuse to move away. Some councils take a very hardline on this and remove all services from the homeless individual. Homeless individuals indicated that this is an example of local authorities’ refusal to help those most marginalised in society.
Other issues with reconnection happen when councils deviate from the intervention protocol and provide only an adapted version of the intervention. For example, some individuals are sent back to an area where there are no resources or services available and their situation is worsened. In some councils, the police service will recognise a new homeless person and request, or insist that they return. Sometimes no further support is given and the person remains on the street, but in a different area.
What is its goal?
Temporary accommodation such as hostels or shelters often require than the homeless person have a local connection prior to accessing the available services. There is a serious risk to general wellbeing borne from sleeping on the street, especially when the individual lacks social capital and is not eligible to access services. The goal of reconnection is to remove the danger of sleeping on the street and present the individual with the benefits of returning to a place where they have a previous connection.
How is the intervention meant to work?
Reconnection interventions will attempt to relocate the person back to an area where local authorities have a responsibility to provide them with the services required to take them off the street and into more stable accommodation.
It is hypothesised that reconnection interventions will be more positive if the homeless individual has a desire to reconnect, that the familiar connection is meaningful to the individual, and that the move is appropriately planned and necessary connections have been made with the relocation area.