It is often the case that people experiencing homelessness get forgotten – either when they first get a roof over their head in the form of a hostel, B&B, or some other form of temporary, emergency or supported accommodation – or when they finally get their move on to their own place. In reality, the roof and four walls solution is rarely enough on its own.
To recover from the fractured and chaotic nature of homelessness, it takes more than a mattress, a roof and four walls. The shock of homelessness can be traumatic, and it leaves wounds that need to be treated with something softer than bricks and mortar.
Above all, it takes listening. And while I am talking about counselling, I’m not really talking about anything fancy. Some people need to just be heard and understood to give them the best chance of recovering from the impact of living without safe and secure accommodation.
Many people suffering from mental health issues will be offered handfuls of generic medication by their doctors. In addition, people face long waiting times for talk-based therapy whilst service users at more progressive projects will be offered immediate ongoing support in the form of an understanding ear and advice that can be both emotional and practical in nature. I have spoken to people on medication who report a kind of bookmarking effect, with their conditions standing still rather than improving. Some of the people I spoke to with access to onsite counselling seemed to experience improvements in their mental health.
The high incidence of mental health issues amongst people with experience of homelessness is at least in part due to the stress and anxiety that comes with not having access to safe and secure accommodation. Many of the people I have talked to recently have been partially insulated from the cost-of-living crisis because they don’t have their own bills, while others live with a one-off weekly payment to their accommodation provider. Despite this help, people experiencing homelessness continue to struggle financially.
Many are anxious about their move on, worried that they will not be able to pay their bills once they move into their own place.
Some people would respond to this revelation by saying something along the lines of “welcome to the real world”, but it is exactly this sort of anxiety that can undermine even the most seemingly solid of recoveries. Peace of mind and stability are essential to cementing a sustainable recovery and worrying about being able to cope on your own can end up being the straw that breaks your back.
Too often we forget how important good mental health is. I spoke to someone recently who assured me that it doesn’t exist. They seemed to think that anyone who claims mental health issues is just making it up to get help and attention. In my opinion this attitude is more prevalent than we care to admit.
The conversations I’ve had recently have suggested that simply medicating mental health issues caused by experience rather than a chemical imbalance in the brain is often not as effective as talk-based forms of treatment, and doesn’t even save money, at least not in the long-term. Too often people are put on long-term prescriptions that end up being more expensive in the long run.
In my opinion it is time we looked, and looked hard, at the type of progressive services that offer in-house counselling, so that others like them can be set up across the country.
We need to listen