We received this letter from Rachel Shimmin, CEO, Buckinghamshire Council, which is lovely and really appreciated – it has made me feel very proud of our team, Joanne and Zach, and our volunteers Mike, Leyton and Jay. During this past crazy year they have provided a fantastic service to the homeless population in Aylesbury. Our team are part of the Rough Sleepers Initiative (RSI), a collaboration of local organisations, working together to make a difference to homeless people’s lives.
Our team lead on supporting homeless people who are using drugs or alcohol, many of whom also have mental health issues. Bucks Mind and Oxford Health are also part of the RSI and, together with our housing partners, we offer a great support pathway for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.
There were some great examples of partnership working that took place very quickly at the start of the Covid-19 lockdown. In quite a short space of time most of the homeless population had been temporarily housed, food and essentials had been sourced and risks had been reduced. There were initially a few non-believers, but that soon changed when the streets of Aylesbury became deserted, reality set in and the non-believers agreed to believe.
I got to know quite a few of our service users during this time, spending the first four weeks of lockdown doing outreach with Joanne as we were short staffed and needed to provide a service, gathering people up to place them in accommodation (Zach joined us in May). The lockdown provided us with a lot more opportunities to engage with service users, in a way that isn’t possible when they are living rough on the streets.
One particular chap, I’ll call him Ben (not his real name), was one of our most poorly service users, he was not engaging with services much, was dependent on alcohol, and had ulcerated legs that meant he was in a lot of pain, with poor mobility. I think the likelihood of him becoming seriously ill whilst on the streets was extremely high. Ben has been around for a while, he was well known locally and was on the RSI caseload, but other services were not reaching out to him as he didn’t engage well.
However, Covid-19 came, which I think scared him, so he began to accept help and support, and has remained doing so since last March. The first thing that was sorted out was to get Ben temporarily housed and off the streets, he was given a self-contained room in a hostel – this meant we had an opportunity to engage with Ben on a daily basis as we knew where he was; on the streets Ben would disappear for days on end and then just turn up, making working with him challenging.
Over the next few weeks Joanne supported Ben to access health services to get his legs sorted out and sign up with a GP. She also helped Ben manage his alcohol addiction, which was not an easy task. It is likely that Ben relied on the public to give him money for his alcohol as he had no access to funds himself. We swiftly started Ben’s benefits claim so that he had some money coming in, although he had no budgeting skills, which threw up some other problems.
It soon became evident that Ben lacked basic skills, he couldn’t cook or clean for himself – we therefore made a referral to the Vulnerable Adults team and engaged Social Services and other professionals, so that he could get support and be assessed for any health conditions that may be impairing his ability to live an independent life.
Over the past 12 months some great outcomes have been achieved with Ben – he has sorted out most of his health issues, he is in receipt of benefits, and he has started receiving support for his alcohol addiction from One Recovery Bucks. In fact, he did so well there in reducing his alcohol use and being motivated to address his addiction that he was being referred to a residential rehab. Social Services had been supporting him with help for his day-to-day living, with two pop-in visits each day.
However, even with close support and almost daily contact with the team, he was at risk of losing his accommodation, which wasn’t really the right accommodation for his needs. Several high-level collaborative meetings later and it was agreed that Ben should be placed within a supported housing unit which could provide the level of support needed.
I am pleased to report that Ben moved into the hostel last week, he looks great and said he was really happy. The support provided there is exactly what Ben needs, with a full timetable of activities and support sessions. Although it is not a rehab, it is a place that will support Ben to be better able to benefit from a rehab placement if one is required in the near future. It may be that Ben only drank because he had nothing to live for and now his life has changed, he may not have to drink so much.
Joanne said, “It was hard to say goodbye as Ben has been a big part of our work during the past year, we will miss a lot him but we are really pleased he is now in the right place”.
I can honestly say that Covid-19 has probably saved Ben’s life, it turned him from being a nobody that most people would just walk past, into being a somebody, who now has a life and a future. Receiving the letter from Rachel was lovely, being acknowledged is fantastic and really appreciated, but it is seeing people like Ben turn their lives around that makes our job so rewarding, which is why we do what we do.
We wouldn’t have been able to have done all this without the collaboration between all partners supporting the Rough Sleepers Initiative including One Recovery Bucks NHS and Buckinghamshire Councils Adult Social Care. We are also very grateful for the donations we received from the Councillors Fund, the Heart Of Bucks and the Morrisons Foundation; this money helped us increase our weekly support hours and helped pay for essential items required when people are housed but have no basic goods or furniture.
The Rough Sleeper Initiative project has been commissioned for a further 12 months, the team are still really busy with an increase in mental health issues being reported, and people are still becoming homeless each week. Joanne, Zach and our volunteers continue to love what they do but the job is tough and I am pleased we have the right people on the team, and from what I hear so are our service users.
If you would like to support our homeless population please make a donation via our donation button.
Colin McGregor-Paterson, CEO