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What's it like counselling individuals who are rough sleeping or homeless?

By Pauline Jackson BSP, Salute Services

Counselling people who are rough sleeping or homeless is a huge challenge.

These people have been let down by society at every turn.

Each day they fend for themselves, their routine of survival on the streets makes them vulnerable to suffering setbacks, attacks and abuse, that leave them traumatised on a daily basis.

People who sleep rough don’t give their trust easily. They keep themselves away from other people as this lonely, dangerous life feels easier and safer than putting trust in someone who ends up abusing that trust.

My first challenge is to gain their trust

I like to think of my clients as survivors rather than rough sleepers. Many have suffered a great deal of trauma throughout their lives, much of which is still ongoing.

They are not only dealing with the hardships of sleeping rough and society’s attitudes towards the homeless, but also with what has happened to cause them to be in this situation.

The life changing events that can lead to homelessness, like losing your job or the death of a partner, can happen to anyone.

I often hear people saying “it’s their own fault” or “they are just lazy or druggies.”

But how would you cope with sleeping outside, on a cold damp floor with little or no protection from the elements, whilst also trying to deal with the traumatic events that got you there?

Is it their fault? No it’s not. Some leave home because of abuse. This can be physical, sexual or mental abuse.

Some have broken up with a partner or lost a family member or friend that they depended on and are not coping with that loss.

Some are ex-soldiers suffering from PTSD, brought on by what they witnessed in the line of duty.

Others are escaping parents with addictions or areas of crime and may have just been released from prison.

Any of the above, if not properly dealt with, will lead to mental health issues and in many cases to homelessness.

People who sleep rough are looked down on by society, people treat them with disgust but more often they are simply ignored. But they have feelings and sometimes all it takes is time, compassion and trust, to get through the hard outer shell that they have developed in order to survive.

I am truly grateful to The Shrewbury Ark for giving me this opportunity to get to know these extraordinary people, to help them to learn to trust again and overcome their traumatic pasts.

With the support of experienced healthcare professionals, The Shrewsbury Ark is creating a holistic approach to caring for people with complex needs, designed specifically around the individual.

Once clients engage in this kind of ongoing support, they can start to look after their own wellbeing and find a safe place that they can call home.

There is nothing more rewarding than watching them pick themselves up, dust themselves down and move forward, like the true survivors that they are.

We need to stop the judgments we make when we look at someone sleeping rough on the street and instead ask the questions; “Why are you here?” and “What can I as an individual and society as a whole, do to help you to recover?”

All I can say about counselling people who sleep rough is if you really knew the true story behind their misfortune You would NOT look at them with disgust or disapproval, you would look at them with admiration for what they have survived. We at SALUTE certainly do salute them.

Pauline Jackson BSP (Brainspotting psychotherapy)


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