What an honour it is to work with and support community nurses. Highly trusted, skilled, knowledgeable, compassionate and creative, they are at the frontline of care: identifying where the poorest health is, addressing the healthcare needs of some of the most vulnerable people in society.

But community nurses are more than just the help they give – they are active in developing radical solutions to drive better public health, whether this is by leading practice development projects, or by educating student nurses. Their voices are becoming louder in debates, calling for new systems that promote better health for all.

The QNI is working with partner organisations nationally to help improve homelessness and health policy. A major part of this work is a collective effort to turn around the shocking and indecent rise in rough sleeping and family homelessness over the last ten years.

The rising number of people experiencing homelessness, and the severity and impact of homelessness on individual and population health, needs to be addressed urgently.  Relevant national and regional policies must all work towards reducing the causes of homelessness, support structures must be collaborative, better research must inform housing and health support providers and low cost accommodation must be championed. Given the impact that homelessness has on health, nurses have a key role to play in all of this work.

The Role of Education

The QNI believes that every student and every registered nurse should have the opportunity to learn about the relationship between health and homelessness. A lack of suitable housing puts people at high risk of poor health as they have no suitable environment to recover from illness. Therefore, a wider understanding of homelessness and its risks is an essential quality for a nurse working in hospital or the community.

Last year, the QNI published a new learning resource, ‘Transition to Homeless Health Nursing’ to help meet the needs of student nurses seeking to develop their knowledge and practice, as well as registered nurses working in the community.

Transition to Homeless Health Nursing’ is an eight chapter, self-guided online resource designed for nurses new to working with people who are homeless.  The resource was developed over the course of a year, with input from over 80 specialist community nurses. I was constantly heartened by the willingness and determination of these busy professionals to share their experiences and wisdom. Their commitment to the next generation of nurses and to helping ensure people who are homeless get the best possible healthcare stood out above all else.

As with all nursing, excellent skills in caring for people who are homeless can only develop fully with experience over time. This resource aims to speed up the learning process and help nurses develop the confidence to understand the causes and effects of homelessness, to work collaboratively, know current legislation and get involved in policy. I am sure it will have widespread benefit to student and registered nurses who care about giving the best possible care to people facing some of the most difficult challenges in life, and I’m proud of the nurses in the QNI’s Homeless Health Network who helped make the resource possible.

Homeless Health in the Curriculum

When we surveyed nursing course leaders last year, we found many differences in their approaches to teaching homelessness. This included some excellent, innovative methods including modules on inclusion health and the involvement of service user speakers, or case study material focused on homelessness. The more proactive universities identified a series of steps they had taken to improve their curricula and approaches to teaching homeless and inclusion health, which had a demonstrable impact. Not all universities were this proactive however, and less than half offered placements in homeless health.

The QNI encourages universities offering nursing programmes to incorporate the learning in our new learning resource as part of their pre-registration nursing programmes. Educators are very welcome to use the online resource as a course learning material, or get in touch to request a hard copy (limited copies per organisation). By sharing best practice we can help ensure there is more consistency when educating students around homeless health.

The QNI also actively encourages nursing educators and student nurses to join the Homeless Health Network to receive regular updates about consultations and the latest research in homeless health. The Network also enables people to share news, resources, and attend free learning events on clinical subjects in this area.

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