‘We are always in some form of contact’: friendships among homeless drug and alcohol users living in hostels

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Abstract

Homeless drug and alcohol users are one of the most marginalised groups in society. They frequently have complex needs and limited social support. In this paper, we explore the role of friendship in the lives of homeless drug and alcohol users living in hostels, using the concepts of ‘social capital’ and ‘recovery capital’ to frame the analyses. The study was undertaken in three hostels, each in a different English city, during 2013–2014. Audio recorded semi-structured interviews were conducted with 30 residents (9 females; 21 males) who self-reported drink and/or drug problems; follow-up interviews were completed 4–6 weeks later with 22 participants (6 females; 16 males). Data were transcribed verbatim, coded using the software package MAXQDA, and analysed using Framework. Only 21 participants reported current friends at interview 1, and friendship networks were small and changeable. Despite this, participants desired friendships that were culturally normative. Eight categories of friend emerged from the data: family-like friends; using friends; homeless friends; childhood friends; online-only friends; drug treatment friends; work friends; and mutual interest friends. Routine and regular contact was highly valued, with family-like friends appearing to offer the most constant practical and emotional support. The use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) was central to many participants' friendships, keeping them connected to social support and recovery capital outside homelessness and substance-using worlds. We conclude that those working with homeless drug and alcohol users – and potentially other marginalised populations – could beneficially encourage their clients to identify and build upon their most positive and reliable relationships. Additionally, they might explore ways of promoting the use of ICTs to combat loneliness and isolation. Texting, emailing, online mutual aid meetings, chatrooms, Internet penpals, skyping and other social media all offer potentially valuable opportunities for building friendships that can bolster otherwise limited social and recovery capital.

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