Interview with Mark Kendall; Engagement Advisor at The Bridge

(3 Min Read)

“If you create something that is like a prison then people become institutionalised and it’s not possible for people to start to build a life away.”

“I’m Mark, I’m a support worker, here to help our guests and make sure that they feel supported and have what they need. On a day to day basis I could be on reception or up and down stairs, making cheese toasties or toast and marmalade. There’s an awful lot of elements to keeping things going and running smoothly.

We’ve got 31 guests at The Bridge at the moment and the key thing is knowing a bit about all of them – the more you know them the better – and getting to know them as people. You might see someone who comes to reception in the morning, wanting bus tickets to get to the chemist in Piccadilly to collect their methadone prescription and I can then say to them ‘do you also want to see the nurse today for that leg injury?’.

We keep a diary at reception with a list of people’s appointments and so we can check to see if they’ve got an appointment with their key worker that day and then remind them. I’ll be chasing up key workers too. Some are fantastic and will keep in touch with us at The Bridge as to what is happening and will ask us for support in facilitating meetings with the guests they are key working.

We often hear “I’ll leave here, it’s s**t”, when people first arrive, but invariably they settle in when they find it’s a bit different to what they are used to. There are quite a few people who come here and we know it’s been a struggle to get them off the streets. These are typically people who have been in the system for many years and it can be a bit of a merry go round. If not quite all then most of our guests have been evicted from at least one hostel or accommodation because they’ve got quite high needs. Often they are so familiar with a life on the streets that they threaten to abandon anywhere that they are not immediately happy with. They like the freedom of the streets and they don’t like the restrictions of a hostel, where quite often they will be set targets by a keyworker. Normally part of their move on plan will be ‘we’ll look at the move on option when you don’t need the support that’s provided by a hostel’ ‘ and so, to tick those boxes, you need to reduce alcohol or drug use, or start engaging in the employment and training work. So they get targets and that’s one of the things they don’t like. However, here we’re just here to help them. We aren’t their key workers and so it’s a different relationship. Ordinarily, people will have a different key worker for each stage of their journey away from the streets. For instance, you’ll have a key worker during the time you’re rough sleeping, which will then change when they move into a hostel and could change again when moved into more permanent accommodation. Whereas here we will chase up the key workers to continue to engage with their clients.

The Bridge staff are the link between the client and key worker and therefore have a more open relationship. As the guests live here, our staff see them a lot and get to know them much better in the long run. Staff can pass information on to the key worker that will help them work more effectively with their clients. They can work with staff to facilitate appointments and if the keyworker can’t take a guest to an external appointment then one of our staff can. People can begin to trust our staff and so open up more.

Lots of keyworkers say that people who have been through the system and have not settled anywhere else before are happy and flourishing here. Because it’s a hotel not a hostel, everyone has their own space. A self-contained unit with a toilet, shower, kettle, microwave, TV. It’s the layout of the common areas which are intended to be as friendly and welcoming as possible. It’s putting thought behind what the subliminal messages are when working with people and treating them as equals. For Example, trusting people with items such as pictures and plant pots – things that can be thrown across reception and have been thrown across reception – but we have to manage risk rather than eliminate it. Where it gets completely eliminated is somewhere like prison, and if you create something that is like a prison then people become institutionalised and it’s not possible for people to start to build a life away.”