Intended and actual outcomes of hostel accommodation use for single homeless people : a critical realist explanation
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Despite an expanding body of research documenting the harms associated with hostel accommodation, it continues to play a central role in response to homelessness across the United Kingdom and Ireland. While few would deny the existence of harmful hostels, many continue to extol the impact of ‘good’ hostels, arguing that they play a unique and important role in resolving homelessness and associated support needs; a role that some argue cannot be replicated in Housing First, housing led, or rapid rehousing models, despite a growing consensus regarding the efficacy of these approaches. This study takes as its starting point this contested terrain, with a particular focus on identifying and understanding the outcomes of hostel accommodation. Utilising a conceptual framework rooted in critical realism, the study seeks, first, to bring conceptual clarity to bear on what is signified by the term ‘hostel accommodation’. It aims to do so by setting out the constituent components of hostels, both necessary and contingent, with a view to understanding what it is about these components that sets a hostel apart from other responses. The thesis continues to draw on critical realism to distinguish between three ontological domains of reality – the real, the actual, and the empirical - with this stratified ontology then allowing for a close exploration of the divergence between the intended and actual outcomes of hostel accommodation. Drawing on the testimony of national key informants – spanning hostel providers, commissioners, academics, and hostel sector representatives - the thesis identifies four ‘tensions’ arising between that which is intended and that which is actualised in hostel accommodation. These are the safety-harm tension, the independence-dependence tension, and the inclusion-exclusion tension, with these three tensions then functioning collectively as a fourth (meta)tension, namely the progress-entrenchment tension. The thesis is structured around these tensions which are expressed as hypotheses and then interrogated through a qualitative multiple case study design. The study design pursued cases of maximum difference across a range of hostel components – such as hostel size, support model, and target group – allowing for the perspective of hostel managers, staff, and residents to be explored across a broad gamut of hostel types. The thesis concludes that the intended outcomes of hostel accommodation - safety, independence, and social inclusion – are vital to human wellbeing and that living environments that enable the actualisation of these outcome ought to be valued. The necessary tendencies of hostel accommodation are, however, strongly oriented against the actualisation of these outcomes, toward their anthesis (in the form of harm, dependence, and exclusion). While hostels can (sometimes) generate intended outcomes, doing so requires purposeful and resource intensive efforts. Even with clear intent, consistent effort, and optimal conditions, hostels often actualise outcomes that are not only contrary to those intended but are (at least in part) generative of the need and demand that informs the basis of that intention. This means that hostel accommodation is not only ill-suited to generating its intended outcomes but is also generative of illusory and contingent versions of the need it seeks to address.