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Opinion

Emotional wellbeing is at the heart of ending homelessness

Emotional wellbeing is vital to everything we do as people. For those who are more vulnerable, emotional support and stability is even more vital, writes Rachel Blundell on World Homeless Day

Whoever you are, whatever your story, homelessness can be a hugely traumatic experience. Whether you’ve been forced to live on the streets, in a tent or car, or between sofas, the impact it has on you and the energy that takes to simply survive cannot be underestimated.

So while it’s probably just a coincidence, I think it’s very apt that 10th October is both World Homelessness Day and World Mental Health Day. While there are many factors involved in ending homelessness, understanding and caring for emotional wellbeing is at the centre.

I’m a clinical psychologist based at Crisis’s Skylight centre in Croydon. Everyone who comes through our doors is different but when we sit with them to hear what’s happened and what support they need, time and again we hear stories of exclusion. Social inequality and poverty often leave people feeling left behind and forgotten. Many of the people we support tell us they have already felt rejected or unable to communicate with services, and that it can be difficult to trust.

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It’s vital that we rebuild that trust. As clinical psychologists based in each of Crisis’s centres across Great Britain, we work to ensure that everything we do is trauma informed. That means all the help Crisis gives, from assessing someone’s needs, to getting them on the housing list, to providing them with training is done with an understanding of the potential trauma and adversity of reaching that point.

For example, take filling out a form. For many people who have had poor experiences of services previously, they will have filled out countless forms before with no meaningful result. Distilling some of the most sensitive and difficult parts of your life can also be re-traumatising. So, if ever we have to complete a form with one of the people we support, we do so with care and understanding. For many people trust in services can be so low that even walking through the door is a huge step, so we ensure that all of our staff know that building trust through positive relationships starts straight away.

Some of the people we support do have specific mental health needs they need support with. They may be in touch with services currently, stopped after a negative experience or fallen through the gaps. We know how the system works and the specific pressures of homelessness, so can assess what our members need and liaise with services to help them get support. But sometimes that just isn’t possible and in that case we deliver support, such as therapy, ourselves. It could be that people’s previous experience with services was negative or due to having no recourse to public funds, they are ineligible for certain NHS mental health provision.

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Clinical psychology can be a bit of a mystery to a lot of people. I still have to tell people I meet socially that I can’t read their minds! For many of the people we support we are mindful of their potential hesitancy in speaking to professionals. So we’re flexible. We can let the people who meet us determine how long we speak for and let them know they can bring someone else along if they want. By having clinical psychology embedded into our centres across the country, working alongside our housing and learning teams, we can think together about how to meet people where they are at, being mindful of what people may have been through, and the importance of building trust. That’s a big part of what a clinical psychologist does; supports teams to build trusting relationships.

Emotional wellbeing is vital to everything we do as people. Positive trusting relationships are the foundation that help us move forward in our lives. Without them things can just feel too overwhelming. It is why at Crisis emotional wellbeing is threaded through everything we do and central in our work to ending homelessness for good.

Dr. Rachel Blundell is a clinical psychologist at homelessness charity Crisis

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