During the winter there’s less opportunity for people to go out and so the people we support can isolate themselves which can have a negative impact on their mental health. Here, Ben, a Housing First Caseworker in Westminster shares how our teams are focusing on arranging activities for the people we support to ensure they don’t feel lonely this time of the year.
Housing First is a service that moves people into accommodation first and then work with them around that to help them support their tenancy. I think it’s really important that we work in this way as I think it’s easy to get someone into accommodation and then to lose them as they’ll get into somewhere and they find themselves isolated and by themselves and they don’t know what to do and they can sometimes develop depression because they’re feeling so alone. It’s not something many people would expect for someone who has just been given their own home but because they’re not used to being on their own all the time it’s difficult for them.
When you’ve housed people who have been living on the streets during the winter time it’s hard to persuade them to come out in the cold and wet weather. So it’s important that we offer them something new, and we try to give them a new experience, whether that’s a museum visit or going out for a Chinese so that they feel part of society and their community.
I was speaking with someone today who had been on the streets for 14 years and now they’re in the flat they can’t give it up for anything, the home is everything they have and since he’s moved into accommodation he has regressed and hidden himself away because he’s never had the opportunity to do that before. It becomes harder during the winter months to keep our clients engaged and to get them out of their houses and taking part in activities. I also recognise the fact that none of us do particularly well during the winter, it’s not a great time of year for most people so there’s definitely a change of mood. It’s making sure that I’m having daily check ins with my clients to see how they’re coping and to make sure they’re ok and what support they need.
Christmas is a bit of a taboo subject as if you’ve had very traumatic experience, Christmas is not a fun loving or pleasant time for them. They see people around them that are off doing their Christmas shopping, meeting with their friends and being able to spend time with their family and loved ones and it can add to the isolation people feel. Just because they’re in their own accommodation it doesn’t get any easier for them and it can sometimes bring up period of their life where they are reflecting on the past and they realise they are alone for Christmas. It’s a real struggle and I think it is a bit of a taboo subject, as the reality of it is that it is a really tough time for a lot of people.
A lot of the things that we do around Housing First, is to make sure all our clients have food hampers over Christmas and we individualise each of our clients Christmas packages as much as we can which I Think makes a real difference. Making sure that our clients are aware of the extra support that is available to them over the winter time. As a team we work for the majority of Christmas and we make sure that staff are available to support clients when they need them and they’ll receive daily check-ins and phone calls and we share the work load a lot as sometimes people do need to be off, we also take on other teams clients when they’re off on leave to make sure that everyone is still supported during the break.
I do go out and buy my clients their very own mini Christmas tree and a few decorations so they have something to look forward to. I think it’s also a nice reminder that if they do start to feel lonely at Christmas and if they are on their own then they can look at the tree and know that someone does care about them and hopefully it will remind them of a happier moment.
I think it’s really important that people show that they care at this time of year, however they do that. There are parts of Christmas that I don’t enjoy and I think sharing these experiences and my own feeling helps my clients to see that they’re not alone, and that not everyone is having a jolly festive time, regardless of their situation.
I’ve been working with someone with very complex mental health. At the beginning the only way he would feel comfortable talking to me was if he was in his bed under a duvet. He wouldn’t come out to see me and he wasn’t looking after himself very well. Six months later, we now meet up three times a week and get a cup of coffee at a local café and he’s beginning to trust me which is amazing. He’s now on a mental health pathway within St Mungo’s and is moving to additional support, he said “I can’t believe you’ve listened to me and you’ve made it happen”. He was so happy. I think it goes to show that there isn’t a perfect scenario for people experiencing homelessness and your options are always limited when you’re in the system, but being able to find him a space that’s more calming environment and less chaotic is really great for me. To see the growth in someone is the reason why I do this job.
Find out more about our Housing First service here.