Dr. Elisabeth Garratt

Elisabeth talks about food poverty, homelessness and bizarre experiences on TV shows.

cardboard house in two hands

Describe your job in three words
Reading, writing, numbers.

How long have you worked for The University of Sheffield?
One day!

What do you enjoy about the work you do?
Its variety and constant potential to reveal new and surprising aspects about people’s lives.

What research are you working on now?
Along with colleagues at Oxford University, I’m currently undertaking a qualitative research project exploring people’s experiences of homelessness in the city of Oxford. Research into homelessness typically explores rough sleeping, but there exists a spectrum of homeless experiences, ranging from people sleeping on a friend’s sofa because they have nowhere to go, to sleeping on the streets, in a tent or car, or in specialist accommodation for people who are homeless and need additional support. It is common for people to move through different types of homelessness, but these movements and their underlying reasons are poorly understood. By undertaking qualitative interviews and life history mapping, we have explored people’s housing and homelessness histories from the first place they remember living as a child to the present day. This has revealed a huge range of life experiences that led people to become homeless: while some of our participants experienced traumatic and abusive childhoods that commonly led to mental health problems and, in some cases, drug or alcohol (ab)use, others became homeless following more ‘typical’ life events including bereavement, job loss, financial problems, ill-health and relationship breakdown.

What would you like to be the ultimate outcome of your research?
I’d like to see changes to some aspects of homelessness policy. We found that many people became homeless because housing in Oxford was simply unaffordable for people with low wages. Policies that appreciate how homelessness results from housing problems (and provision through wider-reaching housing benefits) could prevent many people from becoming homeless. I’d also like to see far better mental health support for children and young people, as this could help alleviate the impact of childhood trauma that makes people vulnerable to homelessness in adulthood.

What legislation would you change to improve how science in your field is done?
I’d love for quantitative methods and statistics more specifically to be taught at an earlier age, to equip people to understand and critically assess statistics rather than accepting them as ‘truth’.

Is there controversy in this area? Other schools of thought?
I’m sure that some people or organisations who benefit from manipulating statistical data for their own gain would be less than happy with my suggestions!

And how did you get involved with the SMI?
I was offered a job here and just couldn’t refuse!

Do you have another area of research that you’re currently not working on that you would like to?
I’d love to undertake some mixed-methods longitudinal research into food poverty in future.

What kind of response have you had to your research / findings?
My research on food poverty has been reported in the national press and I also participated in a TV debate about food poverty, which was a slightly bizarre experience!

Why is your research important? What are the possible real world applications?
Understanding people’s lives from the very start has given us insights into why some people are especially vulnerable to homelessness. This knowledge can be used to inform policy interventions that could protect people against becoming homeless, related to housing affordability, release from prison, and mental health provision, to name just a few.

Why is your area of scientific discovery important (or relevant) for the ordinary citizen of this country?
Homelessness is an issue that concerns the public, so I’d like to think that an improved understanding of its causes and persistence would be welcomed by most people.

What is your favourite thing about what you do?
Gaining new insights into the social world around us.

If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor?
Leslie Knope.

What is currently on your bedside table?
Water bottle, Kindle, half-read parenting books.

Your top 3 favourite Podcasts/Books?
Serial; 50 things that made the modern economy; Woman’s Hour podcast.

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