Whoever you are, whatever your story, homelessness can be a hugely traumatic experience. Whether you’ve been forced to live on the streets, in a tent or car, or between sofas, the impact it has on you and the energy that takes to simply survive cannot be underestimated.
So while it’s probably just a coincidence, I think it’s very apt that 10th October is both World Homelessness Day and World Mental Health Day. While there are many factors involved in ending homelessness, understanding and caring for emotional wellbeing is at the centre.
I’m a clinical psychologist based at Crisis’s Skylight centre in Croydon. Everyone who comes through our doors is different but when we sit with them to hear what’s happened and what support they need, time and again we hear stories of exclusion. Social inequality and poverty often leave people feeling left behind and forgotten. Many of the people we support tell us they have already felt rejected or unable to communicate with services, and that it can be difficult to trust.
It’s vital that we rebuild that trust. As clinical psychologists based in each of Crisis’s centres across Great Britain, we work to ensure that everything we do is trauma informed. That means all the help Crisis gives, from assessing someone’s needs, to getting them on the housing list, to providing them with training is done with an understanding of the potential trauma and adversity of reaching that point.
For example, take filling out a form. For many people who have had poor experiences of services previously, they will have filled out countless forms before with no meaningful result. Distilling some of the most sensitive and difficult parts of your life can also be re-traumatising. So, if ever we have to complete a form with one of the people we support, we do so with care and understanding. For many people trust in services can be so low that even walking through the door is a huge step, so we ensure that all of our staff know that building trust through positive relationships starts straight away.
Some of the people we support do have specific mental health needs they need support with. They may be in touch with services currently, stopped after a negative experience or fallen through the gaps. We know how the system works and the specific pressures of homelessness, so can assess what our members need and liaise with services to help them get support. But sometimes that just isn’t possible and in that case we deliver support, such as therapy, ourselves. It could be that people’s previous experience with services was negative or due to having no recourse to public funds, they are ineligible for certain NHS mental health provision.