Navigate, Glasgow Homelessness Network

Case study 8


This case study describes Navigate, a peer-led support service developed by Glasgow Homelessness Network in the summer of 2014. It provides people experiencing homelessness with support from others who have also been homeless. The case study is based on a group discussion with a development coordinator, two development workers, one of whom is an ex-volunteer and two Navigate volunteers. Navigate grew from a previous, but more limited, service called Home which provided advocacy services. Navigate comprises advocacy and mentoring skills, asset-based approaches and peer-based interventions. The service receives funding from a range of sources including the Oak Foundation, Support and Connect and Comic Relief. Referral to the service happens in a number of ways, with self-referral being the most common. Word of mouth has also proven effective, as has Citizen’s Advice Bureau and Glasgow City Council’s social work department. There are no qualifying criteria for the Navigate service; every individual is referred. The service also accepts people coming back into the service, but this rarely happens.

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To complement this case study Derek Holliday, a peer mentor for Glasgow Homelessness Network’s Navigate service shares his experiences of homelessness, mentoring and his views on services and community.

Building capacity

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Flickr – Freeariello (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The purpose of the Navigate service is to build confidence and capacity in individuals who are experiencing homelessness. People who access Navigate are often in crisis, which can make it difficult for them to take information in, make decisions and take action. Issues such as debt, addictions and other long-term challenges may have contributed to the crisis. Navigate seeks to work on a one-to-one basis with clients to build them up to be able to engage with statutory social services. People experiencing homelessness often isolate themselves from statutory services. Communication is often cited as a barrier for people engaging with services. Navigate works with people to build a readiness to engage with other services.

‘…the stress, the panic and the anxiety and the general fear that comes along with a lot of these visits [to statutory services]. They need time for that to disappear and when that does, suddenly gates open, relief comes and starting seeing a glimmer of hope. That’s what we’re trying to build on in all of our sessions and moving forward.’ (Navigate volunteer 1)

The lived experience of volunteers is a vital way of engaging with people. The volunteers support people to navigate a perceived power imbalance between homelessness services and people who access them:

‘For myself, I’m still homeless, I’m sleeping on a sofa but I’ve got more success of getting people getting housing. ‘ (Navigate volunteer 1)

‘…to expect someone to jump through so many hoops, it’s impossible… it’s certainly a perception, people fear losing control, choice, money…’ (Navigate volunteer 1)

Volunteers recognised how transformative it was for people affected by homelessness to share their experiences with others who had ‘been there’ and that Navigate could bridge a gap:

‘There was clearly a missing link between these services and people that were too scared to open up and speak about it. So that’s there where we come in… we are creating an environment of compassion, empathy, results, no judgements, no jargon… we can get to the heart of the problem before someone engages with services and that’s half the battle I think.’ (Navigate volunteer 2)

Flickr – Liz Jones (CC BY 2.0)

Choice was identified as a part of this missing link. The Navigate approach recognises the importance of empowering the person to lead their own way out of homelessness. Encouraging choice in all their interactions with people is a key part of the process:

‘…we know it has to be the person leading it… people have been given houses and they’ve been pushed into the house, there’s nothing in the house… There’s no real choice, they didn’t want the house… It’s not furnished, it’s not got anything in it. So they’re out because they don’t want to be there. So they’ll go back to being homeless, they’ll be in that cycle because it’s not their choice to have that house in that area… [Supported by Navigate]. The person has the choice right at the beginning of their journey, they’re deciding all the time.’ (GHN Development worker and ex-volunteer)

Sharing to build trust

Navigate takes an assets-based approach to supporting people. This approach is based on a belief in the skills, strengths and capacities of the individual. This helps people to open up and talk about their experiences which is seen by volunteers as a missing component between some services and people experiencing homelessness. A significant part of the approach is how peer volunteers use their own experiences of homelessness to develop trust and relationships with the people they support.

‘We do a little bit of safe sharing, so we give a bit of understanding of why we’re here, what’s our context. Individuals identify that we’re not paid and we’re here because we actually had some recent or relative experience and it’s changed us and how we were treated in the process. ‘(Navigate volunteer 1)

Navigate goes a lot further than the previous advocacy service. Volunteers can now attend appointments with people. This can help them maintain engagement with other services.

‘A lot of the housing officers, that’s their struggle, they can do all the great work, they can sit with them, they spend hours and hours but as soon as they leave the door, they’re blind… ‘ (Navigate volunteer 1)

‘You need to let these other services know that we’re not here to challenge them all the time and we’re not here to antagonise them. We can literally take the strain off them. ‘(Navigate volunteer 2)

Working together

The core of Navigate’s support is partnership working between volunteers and individuals, between volunteers and GHN, and between GHN and other services. The peer volunteer provides a framework within which to work with the individual. Typically this starts as advocacy, however, as the person’s confidence and capacity increases, the person may begin to advocate for themselves, begin to make choices and to direct their own journey towards their specified goals. The service is flexible, not time limited. The Navigate peer volunteers appreciate that people need time to digest and reflect on the information they are given, by them as well as formal services:

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Flickr – Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC 2.0)

‘…one of the biggest benefits of it is the time that we can spend, particularly if it’s the initial, first contact. Presenting ourselves as who we are, just volunteers, we’ve been there before. Quite often we’re leading by showing ourselves as a person like ‘I’ve been through a rough situation, I’ve used services and look where I am now it’… So we can lead by example. (Navigate volunteer 1)

Other services also benefit from the Navigate approach. Volunteers note that people have missed fewer appointments and that they are more informed and engaged when they attend appointments. The ongoing support from Navigate, between appointments with statutory services, also reduces the strain on the services. This is due to the capacity building that goes on between meetings.

‘The feedback I’ve had from some services has been that they would have liked us to have been there prior to a person engaging with our service because we can have that honest conversation… They’re going to get better results, the person’s expectations are going to rise, the belief in themselves will rise, their confidence and resilience and capacity all rise as a result of that.’ (Navigate volunteer 2)

The power of volunteering

GHN has had a volunteer programme since its beginning, and Navigate is the culmination of learning which the organisation has acquired over the last twenty years.

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Flickr – The Tire Zoo (CC BY 2.0)

‘Our funding was so restrictive that it means that we were watching people disappear and never getting back in touch with us ever again. So when we got the new funding confirmed to do the Navigate Project that was something that was built in right from the very outset. It would be something that was a bit different and tried to link up services that already exist within the Glasgow framework but don’t necessarily have the links with each other to make direct referrals or to support people between services. ‘(GHN Development worker)

The Navigate volunteers appreciate that every person’s situation is unique and strive to be able to appropriately respond to the complexities people present. For this reason, the service is flexible, gathering evidence to inform changes. The service uses thorough, well-supported guides for all the required paperwork which is accessible and shared with the supported people to ensure transparency.  All resources and approaches are co-produced, principally through ’Navigate Together’ meetings every four weeks. These provide an opportunity for everyone involved to reflect together and agree on any amendments.

When rapport has been established, the service focuses on setting SMART goals with the clients,  with a view to build confidence and strengthen trust. Within relatively few weeks, those supported by the service are able to take a lead role in the peer relationship, weighing up their own choices. Having a close peer relationship gives individuals an opportunity to reflect and inform themselves.

Support for volunteers

All Navigate peer volunteers are supported by a GHN link worker. A volunteer can request to do a pre- or post-client briefing meeting which are in addition to regular meetings with their link worker. Regular meetings take place at least every six weeks. A volunteer’s first three appointments are conducted jointly with a link worker.

In addition, there is a lot of peer-to-peer support between the volunteers, both formally through meetings, and informally through the friendships, they have established. Because the role of peer volunteers is to facilitate, it is important that they maintain this focus and don’t attempt to problem solve for clients. Their ability to facilitate is strengthened through sharing experiences and knowledge with other peers on anything from communication skills, being positive and confident, to getting the best out of other services.

‘We go through a really high level of training which really breaks down our skills and really identifies what we’re supposed to do.’ (Navigate volunteer 1

An internal volunteer development programme has been established which explores with the volunteers what they would like to do in terms of education and employment. This builds their capacity and integrates the asset-based approach into the service. The value of volunteering is evident in the peer volunteers’ own appraisal of their role and its impact. The volunteers informing this case study describe their involvement in the service as life changing and empowering.

‘It blows your mind… Helping others when you’ve been through crisis is very enriching… helps you re-validate and reflect back again, take strength from things that historically would stop you leaving your front door…’  (Navigate volunteer 1)

The role of the peer-volunteer has become attractive to people who have been helped by the service. It’s a way to give back to a service which helped them. As part of the disengagement process, supported people are offered the opportunity to become peer volunteers. There is quite a high turnover of volunteers as they grow in confidence and skills and move into employment. As one development worker commented ‘we keep losing people to jobs’.

Flickr – Sherri Lynn Wood (CC BY-NC 2.0)

No mistakes

What underpins the approach to development at Navigate is the commitment to continuous learning and being comfortable with the unknown. The design and direction of the support provided is an ongoing process  which is ‘entirely led by the experiences of the people who are actually doing the work’. (GHN development worker) Change can be responsive depending on the needs of people:

‘…in the very beginning it was nothing, it was an idea on a bit of paper and we’ve been learning and developing… you’ve had to be really comfortable with the fact that hasn’t been a set answer to certain things because we’re just working out… There’s a really nice grey area, come and join us.’ (GHN Development worker)

‘…anything that needs tweaked we tweak it. Ideally then there’s no lag or time delay in anything like that because we are relatively small and everything is coproduced…If one of the volunteers has an experience that leads them to think that we should do something a bit differently we discuss that as a group and if it sounds like a good idea then we do it.’ (GHN Development worker)

This agility and open mindedness is highly valued by those working in the service who take pride in GHN’s approach:

‘… trying to adopt assets based approach, or peer based approach, or coproduction, it just takes a bit of guts. I think GHN have the guts to stand up and say that we can do this differently…It’s exciting and once you learn the fact that it’s always constantly evolving. Once you realise that, it’s quite exciting to be involved in it.’ (Navigate volunteer 2)


Flickr – Sharon & Nikki McCutcheon (CC BY 2.0)

Evidence is highly valued and regularly gathered. People’s journeys are as important as capturing data at the beginning and end of their engagement with Navigate, so the service uses an action-evidence measure. This is gathered through the paperwork an individual and volunteer complete together, such as SMART targets, action plans and realistic goals. All paperwork is completed in collaboration and the client signs off each session, which has been proven to encourage ownership of the actions. Meetings and goals are scheduled to suit the client, which also encourages control, empowers and reassures.

As part of its outcomes measurement system, GHN has developed disengagement forms, asking questions to attempt to measure the difference that the peer element and asset-based approach made. However, there have been very few disengagements to date. Those involved in Navigate know that the impact they make on people’s lives can’t always be easily evidenced by some standard measures, but is clear to them and those they support:

‘… everyone wants to talk about numbers, and how much money we’re saving… From my experience, the evidence is obviously there and I get to see it in the feedback from the individual that I’m supporting and the results that we get..’ (Navigate volunteer 2)