(6 Min Read)
‘Everyone who is or has been rough sleeping is coming to the situation with a different story which has lead them onto the streets. There are sometimes mental health factors that lead individuals to sleep rough, but there may be none at all: ending up on the streets can happen to anyone’.
Dobrochna is a psychologist providing in-reach support for guests staying at The Bridge. Sleeping rough can significantly effect a person’s mental health, as too can moving back inside after spending time on the streets. This interview highlights the work she has been doing at The Bridge and the effects that the setting has had on helping the guests to address their mental wellbeing.
Dobrochna believes that the fact there is psychological support within the accommodation provisions conducive to guests accessing the service. . The set up at the Bridge was consciously designed to make the atmosphere more encouraging to seeking support. As Dobrochna explains;‘It’s a very flexible service which is mindful of the situation the residents are in’.
The fact that the Bridge is referred to as a ‘Hotel’ rather than a ‘Hostel’, already creates different perception and a different feel. There are many services and professionals coming into the Bridge to work with the guests which ‘enables the residents not only to engage but also to see what each service is doing.’ This helps the residents to be comfortable establishing who those professionals are and what they can do for them.
Psychological in-reach is important as it also breaks down barriers of what a psychologist is.‘Clients can sometimes have a fear of psychologists as they can associate them with being sectioned’ or have had other difficult experiences. ‘This atmosphere allows us to change those associations and fears that have been previously established’. The environment here is designed ‘to show the residents it is your pace.’ In this way, they are able to tailor the support to the individual’s needs. Individuals can refer themselves to meet with the psychologists or they may be referred in by their support worker or other staff.
Dobrochna explained that some guests at the bridge have given the feedback that ‘they are able to open up more as they feel safe here and I think that’s a really huge statement; they have been able to open up more about things which they haven’t ever felt safe enough to speak about before’.
Rough Sleeping and Mental Wellbeing
It is hard to contextualise the impact that rough sleeping can have on someone’s emotional and mental wellbeing as the circumstances are very unique. Spending even a single night on the streets is a traumatic experience in itself. This coupled with whatever has happened to the person before; maybe in their childhood, or relationship breakdowns or other losses that lead to the situation to them being on the streets, can be extremely challenging. ‘Being on the streets would cause someone to be in ‘threat’ mode and their body would react by putting them in a survival state.’ To highlight what this means; ‘we could be in this state momentarily if something causes us to jump, for example, but people on the streets are constantly in that state. It is impossible not to have any kind of consequences of being in that position, it will effect someone’s emotional and physical wellbeing later on. Being in this position can lead people to develop or further their anxiety and depression and can lead people to try and control this by using alcohol or substances.’ The impact of being on the streets can also be different between men and women and experiences can differ by the age of the person, ‘but there is always an impact, and that can be something which is sometimes underestimated in terms of how big that impact might be.’
Does this factor impact on the support guests are given? ‘We do discuss trauma with the residents in relation to specific situations. This may be incidents in their childhood, or in other institutions such as prison, or care. The aspect of sleeping rough, or sofa surfing and being in squats and in constant uncertainty is something which has a huge impact as well, and this often needs to be addressed.’ This a hard situation to be able to understand fully, and ‘many clients do say that if you’ve never been on the streets or slept rough, it’s not a scenario you can ever fully understand.’
Moving inside can be extremely challenging; ‘It is very difficult to switch from living outside to inside. Things like getting used to sleeping in a bed, the temperature being different and being in an enclosed space. All of these things can make it difficult for people to adapt.’ On the streets people are used to being in the open air with lots of people around and constant noises – those things can be comforting to people, helping them feel like they’re ok. ‘When they’re in accommodation like this, it’s very quiet and inside a closed space, this can take some adjusting to.’ That is an important aspect of how the psychologists are looking to support people.
This is an important factor and can have an impact right down to ‘the person’s identity and how they feel as a person. They might be desperate for their own flat but what it means in reality might be much scarier.’ There can be a preconception that if you are rough sleeping, your needs are met once you move into accommodation, but that is not normally the case.‘Your mentality and way of living when you are street homeless is completely different to when you move into a flat; there are additional needs that still need to be taken care of. There may be work to be done to support substance use and other environmental issues such as adapting to living in a community with neighbours.’
The slow step up and move into The Bridge goes someway to bridge this gap and encourages guests to use the services on offer. Because they are available within the building it could make it easier for guests to engage in further support later on. ‘This is very important as once they are in accommodation, the support will be crucial to sustaining the tenancy and further stability. We have a few clients that although they have moved on they have still continued with some psychological support. They may not have previously thought that they needed to but they know now that they need to address their issues.’ There are a lot of factors that can impact a person once they have moved on and unfortunately clients can end up sleeping rough again, even after moving into a further tenancy. That said, Dobrochna explains she is hopeful that the support given at The Bridge can have longstanding effects; ‘even if they end up evicted or back on the streets, the fact that they have learned something about addressing their emotional needs is huge and is very important. This could lead to them to start prioritising themselves in a healthy way in the future.’
‘For me as a professional working within the model at the Bridge it’s fantastic because we are able to work with many professionals together and communicate together about support. That really helps to support the guests and for everyone to be able to work together. It really is a great place and it is fantastic to be able to offer it to our guests.’