Image courtesy of Augustina Heit via unsplash.com
Many of BCHA’s clients have challenging and highly traumatic histories, ranging from domestic abuse and mental health issues to alcohol dependency and substance misuse. A number will be ex-offenders. Sometimes forming relationships can be challenging as their ability to trust another human being is often at an all-time low, as are their mental coping mechanisms. It can take a long time for them to learn to interact with other people, having been accustomed to living alone and fending for themselves. For them, homelessness or rough sleeping is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of their many other, often extremely complex, problems.
When forging relationships with new clients, the most important part is establishing a mutual trust based on respect and a non-judgemental approach. Often it takes weeks to get to a position where the client feels they can share the many personal aspects of their lives, which are traumatic for them including their coping mechanisms.
*Malcolm, has been homeless on and off since the age of 18. He had been dependant on alcohol, but initially didn’t feel that he could share that he was still drinking - often at his first meetings with support staff, it was clear that he was still drinking.
Once the relationship was built, our Supported Housing and Health team in Devon were able to form a more detailed picture of his other issues, which included poor physical health and problems in maintaining relationships with people. He specifically wanted to live alone and not mix with other people. This itself is not unusual, as many homeless people get used to living along and take a long time before becoming comfortable about interacting with people.
Malcolm’s case worker also sourced additional clothing for him, as he only possessed the clothes he was wearing and, as he had no form of ID, they assisted in obtaining a copy of his birth certificate, as well as registering with a GP and arranging an appointment.
Malcolm is settling in well into his temporary shared accommodation, leased by BCHA, where he lives with five other residents. This is a big change compared to his earlier feelings about relationship development and living with others.
His progress overall since being in temporary accommodation has been tremendous, as he has taken on the role of a father figure of the house, including organising meals for everyone, moving furniture around to make the accommodation look more homely, as well as taking care of the other residents.
He has also ended a relationship, which was detrimental to his health and is engaging well with his support worker. He has also improved his personal hygiene, showering frequently and laundering clothes.
Funding for Malcolm’s housing has come via Plymouth City Council as part of the Plymouth Alliance, which was created to improve the lives of people with complex needs by supporting the whole person to meet their aspirations. The alliance involves eight member organisations, including BCHA. There is no time limit on Malcolm’s accommodation - BCHA will support him in accessing permanent accommodation.
Here is Malcolm's story in his own words:
“Sleeping rough during lockdown was very scary, it was cold and there was nowhere to go for warmth or even a cup of tea. I didn’t know what has happening and found it nearly impossible to find someone to talk to. Everything had closed and no one was out and about. Approaching people to seek information was very daunting as I felt that I couldn’t go near anyone.
“I became very anxious, I really didn’t want to go anywhere and at first I didn’t believe it. Then I heard more and more and began to worry about eating and touching things.
“My main source of income was busking, but with everyone being instructed to stay at home, there was no one to listen and enjoy the music and this meant no money.
“My health wasn’t good either, due to the damp of living in a cave for two years and the weather. I suffer from asthma, which had become worse and I was frightened as I thought I had a chest infection, but once I knew about Covid I was scared to seek help. My mental health was getting worse, too.
“To keep warm, I lit a fire each night in the doorway of the cave to keep the draught away. I had a sleeping bag for warmth. The cave was surrounded by signs warning of falling rocks. It was very windy, winter hit and I questioned myself why I was here.
“Because facilities and drop in centres were closing I was having to bathe in the sea, and I found one or two cold rinse showers on the beaches in Cornwall."
Malcolm approached Plymouth City Council for help:
"I didn’t know about the Government’s new policy to accommodate homeless people. I went because I had enough and was feeling poorly. I felt like I was passing out and an ambulance was called. The ambulance helped with my breathing.
"I didn’t expect the help that I got. I thought the council would send me away. Everything was managed so fast and quick.
“Moving into temporary accommodation offered me a more stable environment, however after not living in accommodation for a long extended period of time I found it pretty daunting. The first thing I did was to close the door of my bedroom and cry. I saw the shower, bed and TV. I had a shower and fell asleep.
“At first it was overwhelming as I was not used to sharing as I hadn’t been around people for a while. I can’t hear the sea from my room but I can still hear it in my sleep. It is drilled into your sleep.
“However, having been living in shared accommodation now for several weeks, I’m enjoying the company and I like being able to cook for my housemates and to entertain them with singing - minus guitar.
“It’s nice to have a conversation with someone instead of a bird or a fox.
“I’ve not had proper accommodation in years, but I want to keep it. You have to draw the line and say that’s enough.
“My hope for the future is to find a self-contained flat or bedsit and a job. I want to build on new friendships and carry on being a people person. I’m also putting music first again."
*Name changed to protect anonymity
'Malcolm' is featured in the article Gap in homelessness help could force thousands back onto the streets by Cat McShane of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. We'd like to thank the Bureau for the use of additional quotes in BCHA's Malcolm's story.