‘Relationships unlike any before’

St Mungo's project worker Lauren (left) and client Bradley (right)

St Mungo’s project worker, Lauren Morgan (pictured left), works at our Longhills project in Bristol. This is a residential project for 26 people with complex needs, including poor mental health, and drug and alcohol use. Lauren works shifts supporting four clients. We caught up with her to find out what her role involves.

Some days I walk home and I think, ‘I didn’t think I would be doing that today’. From helping register people for benefits, a GP or a dentist, to dealing with people in extreme emotional distress, every day is different.

Reacquainting people with their old interests

I start by getting to know what my clients would like to achieve. I try to reacquaint them with their old interests as well as some more structured support with benefits, volunteering, getting the right support for their mental health and drug or alcohol use.

Clients can now spend up to two years in the Bristol Pathway – a route away from homelessness – which may seem a long time. The positive for me is that I have longer to help people progress in their ambitions. Building a relationship can take time. We meet weekly for one to one sessions, with lots of opportunity for chats over a cuppa in between.

I run a breakfast club where we cook together. Sometimes I lead and sometimes a client may really engage and take the lead – that’s when I take a step back. Jane is a good example of this, she loves to look after people and it’s lovely to see her sharing her cooking skills.

For example, Jane, has been at Longhills since June 2017. Due to her drug use, Jane lost her home and through that, was no longer able to look after her teenage children. She has found it very difficult to accept living in a hostel. She said: “I feel happier now than when I first arrived, I didn’t want to be here at all. I have my own problems. Living here with other people who have their own issues can be hard. But it also puts things in perspective, I think I have had it bad but there is always someone worse then you.

“I have always kept a tidy home and I am cleaning and hoovering six times a day. I can’t wait to get my own place again. They have really helped me at Longhills, the staff are great. My mum died when I was ten and we stayed with my dad. I was the oldest girl and I had to step up and look after everyone. Dad liked everything spotless and I grafted to please him. It was a messed up household……”
Jane tears up every time she talks about this.

Family reconnections

It’s a humbling experience to work here, supporting people in mental distress, calling ambulances, when needed doing hourly checks on people at risk or simply keeping on top of paperwork. Sometimes I will help a client to clean their room if they are really struggling to keep on top of things. You go through so much intensity with people and the relationships are unlike anything else I have experienced. For example, I have been helping Bradley reconnect with his family.

Bradley, 20, said: “I was diagnosed with ADHD as a teenager and was on medication. I started hanging out with people on the streets and was introduced to drugs. I started smoking spice, using crack and heroin on a daily basis when I was 16. I was living with my dad at the time and he did try to help me. I didn’t listen and I stopped taking my ADHD meds and the spice and drugs took over. In the end my dad asked me to leave.

“I went to the council and got a place in another hostel before coming here. I wouldn’t be alive now if I hadn’t come to Longhills. They have helped me deal with my mental health and I am reducing my drug dependency with the support of Lauren and Bristol Drugs Project. She has helped me rebuild my relationship with my dad so we could go out for my birthday which was really nice. I am moving on soon to supported housing and I would say to anyone in my position to take the help on offer. I was suicidal but now I feel there is a future for me. I want to work in construction.”

Opportunity, anger and light

Bradley is a good example of someone taking back control of his life. I find it hard to see people held back by lack of opportunity. Trauma can be so damaging. Sometimes people can’t see their potential and we often care more about them than they do for themselves. Losing clients to addiction is terrible.

I have been shouted and screamed at, sometimes there have been threats but I know they are only shouting because that’s how some people communicate their frustrations, they are not angry with me. People usually apologise afterwards.

But there is light amidst it all. We had a lady who smoked a lot of heroin and lived a chaotic lifestyle. She fell pregnant and wanted desperately to keep her baby. Social services were against it. She worked exceptionally hard to turn her life around and she is now in a mother and baby rehabilitation unit.
She sent me a really beautiful thank you card saying she was so grateful for the support, it had changed her life. I was so proud of her. She did all the work. I can’t do it for her.

She was such a breath of fresh air and an inspiration to our residents. She gave them hope, for months after she moved on residents were talking about her and saying: “If she can do it so can I.”

New year, new challenge

Are you interested in taking on a new challenge? We’re looking for people with a passion for ending homelessness and helping to rebuild the lives of people affected by homelessness. Check out our current vacancies.