Imagine being a single dad and struggling to be rehoused following a marriage breakup. Your children have to stay with relatives until you find a house. You have depression and every evening after kissing your children goodnight you have to go and sleep in your car. You’ve been in this situation for 18 months and are anxious things may never change.
Homelessness is not something that just happens to other people. For most of us if our income stopped – whether a job or benefits – we would lose our homes within 3 months. People with mental health issues experience stigma and when they’re homeless they can be discriminated against when they are trying to find somewhere to live.
Wouldn’t you like someone to listen to your fears? To put your case forward to housing services or benefits agencies; to help you get a positive outcome and get your life back on track?
Sarah tells us her story:
‘I had to go into hospital as my depression got so bad because my husband was hitting me. When I came out I had nowhere to live with my four kids. I had to sleep on a friend’s settee and was separated from my kids.
I was desperate when I met my housing support worker David. I couldn’t look at him and kept stuttering as I was so anxious about getting a house.
David came with me to Housing Options. He kept me calm because the kids were running around. He helped me tell the worker there about why I was homeless.
Housing Options found a house for me but I had to wait for two weeks before we could move in; I was scared it would fall through but David reassured me and explained why there was a delay.
I had no furniture but David rang round charities and got me beds, a settee and wardrobes. I had no money as my benefits had been stopped because my circumstances had changed.
I worried that I wouldn’t be able to cook meals for the kids but David rang the Local Welfare Fund and told them that I had no cooker or fridge and thankfully they gave me both.
I tried to get a loan to buy bedding, pans and plates and things but I was refused. David said the Mental Health team had a small budget for this.
I get really anxious about talking on the phone so I was worried about ringing the gas and electric companies to set up an account, David did this for me.
On the day we moved in, David came round and brought the duvets and kitchen stuff. I was so chuffed because I’d been worried that the kids wouldn’t be able to sleep because it was freezing, but they were cosy.
I told David that we had no food as my benefits still hadn’t arrived. He picked me up a food parcel, this was a relief.
It was a week before Christmas and I felt really guilty because I didn’t have any money to buy the kids presents, I hadn’t mentioned this to David though as I am a proud person. I was really happy and surprised when he and Marie from the team came round the next day with some toys that they’d got from the Asda toy appeal.
David kept ringing up about my benefits until they were sorted and helped me apply for housing benefit.
When I was at rock bottom, desperate with depression and homeless, David was a lifesaver. He helped me put my life back together; it means so much to me and my kids to have a home. Now we’ve got a roof over our head I feel I can begin to recover from depression and anxiety
I wanted David to keep working with me but he explained that now I’m rehoused that there is another team, IMPACT, who can support me and he will refer me to them.”
Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.
Sarah’s story is just one example of the many people that Leeds City Council’s Mental Health Homeless team help. My name is Martha and I am the manager of this diverse team consisting of me, a deputy manager – Birgit, 10 senior workers, a social worker who is an Approved Mental Health Practitioner and our administrative worker – Charlie. We are passionate about getting vulnerable people access to services such as benefits, housing, and health.
Who do we work with?
Our team work with young people, women fleeing domestic violence, people leaving hospital or prison settings, refugees, people with dual diagnosis issues. We work alongside people to identify support needs including physical and mental health, emotional wellbeing, alcohol and drugs support.
What do we do?
We have a responsibility to ensure the safety of anyone who is vulnerable that we work with. This sometimes means that we make safeguarding referrals for vulnerable children and adults. In a recent case we supported someone who was being targeted for money by other residents at the hostel where they were staying. We supported them to make a statement to the police. We also liaised with the housing safeguarding manager to review their housing priority to reflect the urgency of the threat of violence.
Finding somewhere to live is the beginning for service users as some of them have been homeless for years. They may have no furniture, may not be used to paying bills or even living on their own. They need the team’s support to transform this house into a home and to settle in.
The effect of the homelessness crisis is often invisible. To access the service our criteria is that people do not have a tenancy. This includes- no fixed abode, street homeless, sofa surfing or living in emergency short term temporary accommodation, for example St Georges Crypt, or have received an eviction notice.