By Annie Waddington-Feather, Trustee to The Shrewsbury Ark
Now in its tenth year, World Homeless Day, 10 October has been used as a day to raise awareness of the experiences and realities of homelessness, and the many barriers’ people experiencing homelessness face.
So we are taking this opportunity to take a closer look at what homelessness looks like in our local community and hopefully help to dispel some of the harmful stereotypes people without a home encounter.
Homeless in Shropshire
During the financial year 2021/22 the Local Government ‘Understanding Homelessness in Shropshire’ found:
· The October to November 2021 snapshot found a total of 21 people sleeping rough, this is higher than the average of 16 for All English unitary authorities.
· The age group with the highest number of main applicants within each household that has been assessed as owed a prevention or relief duty was 25-34.
· Of the 806 households owed a relief duty, 360 were single adult males followed by 165 single adult females and 107 single adult females with children.
We estimate approximately 25 people in our community are currently sleeping rough, and we now regularly have over 50 people coming through our doors each day in need of support.
From April 2020 to August 2022, our figures show we supported 583 homeless and vulnerable people; 372 were male, median age 38, and 124 were female, medium age 37. There was no recorded gender or age for 87 people.
As well as devastating, dangerous and isolating, people experiencing homelessness face some of the worst health outcomes.
The homelessness charity Crisis suggest the average age of death for people experiencing homelessness is 46 for men and 42 for women, and homeless people are over nine times more likely to take their own life than the general population.
It’s vital that homeless, and other vulnerable people are connected to support services as soon as possible.
According to Crisis “the longer someone experiences rough sleeping, the more likely it is they will develop additional mental and physical health needs, substance misuse issues and have contact with the criminal justice system. The more complex needs someone has, the more help they will need to move on from homelessness.”
Barriers to accessing healthcare
Life throws different challenges. If you’ve been abused as a child, come out of care, prison or the forces, or even lost your job due to the pandemic, sometimes it’s easier to turn to something to take the pain away. And that something often brings about changes in personality and behaviour.
A person who has had complex life challenges often lacks the skills and knowledge to cope. Unlike a glamourous film or pop star addict, who immediately has access to resources and support to help them with their substance misuse, many homeless are pre-judged and stigmatised.
For whatever reason, people experiencing homelessness or other vulnerable people are intimidated or do not feel comfortable accessing health and care services through usual routes. The result is health deteriorates, and they only present to healthcare services when they are at crisis point.
The government’s recent ‘Ending Rough Sleeping For Good’ strategy highlights the need to join up systems to provide the most effective support to people sleeping rough, and looks to new local Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) to take account of the health and social care needs of people sleeping rough in their area.
Sometimes this is easier said than done, but we have stepped up to the challenge to provide access to a range of essential healthcare services for those who come through our door.
Integrated healthcare for homeless and vulnerable people in Shrewsbury
We are a place where trust is built, and people are supported and given opportunities to make positive changes in their lives.
On a daily basis we are currently providing hot breakfasts and lunches for over 50 people. The showers, washing machines and driers are in constant use; creative activities discover hidden talents while other sessions and activities, such as working in our allotment, teach basic life skills and support personal development.
Each individual who comes through our door has faced different life challenges requiring different levels, and types of support.
Since we relocated to larger premises earlier this year, through strategic partnerships, we now offer the most vulnerable in our community vital access to appropriate healthcare services in a space where they feel respected, safe and secure.
The result is health and mental health issues are identified and treated earlier, and systems are in place to help prevent relapse or deterioration in mental health conditions.
· Medical Clinics
Providing essential GP services, Dr Nicola Roberts and her team from Riverside Medical Practice run weekly clinics in the Ark’s dedicated medical room.
There is also a heptology clinic run in partnership with Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, and through The Hepatitis C Trust, people are regularly tested for hepatitis; if anyone tests positive, we support them with wrap around care for their ongoing treatment.
· Oral Health
Oral health is being improved by a partnership with Healthy Smile team, Oral Health Improvement and Shropshire Community Dental Services, and many are given access to appropriate clinical dental services.
· Substance misuse
As well as working with the Shropshire Recovery Partnership team, we offer Intuitive Recovery courses, an accredited abstinence program that gives people the tools to say no to drinks, drugs, or gambling, happily and with confidence.
We are hoping to offer other drug and alcohol support services from our premises soon.
· Counselling and mental health services
We are a designated a ‘Safe Place’ for adults who are anxious, scared or at risk while they are out and about and need support.
Individual trauma intervention sessions are delivered by SALUTE and Axis counselling provides support to survivors of all types of sexual abuse.
We are hoping to offer other mental health support services from our premises soon.
· Other support
Emotional and mental health support from staff and volunteer cannot be under estimated.
As a charity we employ a full-time manager and eight part-time support, outreach and admin staff.
However, it is through our team of over 50 volunteers that we are able to operate.
As proud recipients of the Queens Voluntary Service Award, as well as cooking, helping people navigate the complexities of housing and other support services, and lending a listening ear, volunteers help with food runs, admin support, wrap-around care, take people to essential appointments or quietly support people with the challenges of running a home, ensuring they remain connected and engaged with the community, and preventing mental health relapse.
Our Board of Trustees, made up of 10 volunteers, ensure the charity is operates professionally and efficiently, and adheres to all regulations.
We NEVER charge for our services and we are funded entirely by grants and donations.
Thank you to everyone who supports us! Everything we are able to do is because of your generosity.
If you would like to volunteer for us at Shrewsbury Ark get in touch! We have lots of volunteer opportunities. Email us at email@example.com or telephone us via 01743 363305 to register an interest.
You can support us to help people make positive changes in their lives by:
· Making a donation via our page on the Charities Aid Foundation. Click here to make a regular or one-off donation online now. (Please remember to Gift Aid your donation – This means we will receive tax benefits and help ensure your donation goes further.)
· Shop online through the Give as you Live shopping website. Through this portal, retailers agree to give a percentage of your purchase to us, at NO cost to you. More information and sign-up details here.
· Call in at our shop at 14 Castle Street to make a purchase or donate unwanted items.
If you’re concerned about someone sleeping rough, let us know about rough sleepers in your area via Streetlink on 0300 500 0914 or online at www.streetlink.org.uk. We will action your report, locating the person of concern, helping them to get off the streets as soon as possible and supporting them to remain in their own home.