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.