I’ve been working at Evolve for four years nurturing the mental health of our homeless residents. For the first year and a half I worked on the Peer Circles project, after that I moved to managing their counselling service for two years before moving into my current role as the Health + Wellbeing manager. I’m always discovering new health and wellbeing things that really help me and I wanted to help guide others to improve their health and wellbeing.
The service we provide for Evolve homeless residents is made up of a Counselling Coordinator and a team of Counsellors. The team is comprised of volunteers on placement who are working towards their counselling diploma or a degree. We assign them clients from our homelessness services so they can build the hours of training they need and in turn, they’re able to work for us for free. This is how we provide a free counselling service to all our residents who need it.
We also have three Psychological Wellbeing Therapists (PWTs), who take on work with our residents with more complex needs, who have multiple diagnoses that traditional counselling might not benefit. They do everything from creating art or music, to going for a walk with someone, breath work, grounding, or mindfulness. Their remit is huge, and they all bring their own exciting skills and experience. They really tailor each session to make the biggest impact. That makes a huge difference.
The counselling and wellbeing we offer is so important for our residents. We can’t just rely on statutory mental health services because they are severely underfunded and have extremely long waiting lists. The Hurt to Homeless report we published a few years ago revealed a strong link between trauma, mental health, and homelessness. So, to have something inhouse is amazing and a lot of the support workers, managers and residents really appreciate that. They know they can trust in that relationship because the referral isn’t being sent into the unknown, it’s being sent to our dedicated team and myself.
Evolve is truly dedicated to the wellbeing of all its residents. We have created a two-year strategy in place to embed psychological informed environments (PIE) throughout the whole organisation. PIE has five key elements:
For example, our homelessness service, Alexandra House, is a pretty psychologically informed environment when it comes to social spaces. It is well lit, there’s a lot of space, the layout is good, it’s clean, there’s art on the walls, there’s information displayed clearly and there’s leisure space. It’s about having that positive environment especially in accommodation services. Historically, homelessness services don’t meet these standards. We must remember that this is someone’s temporary home, and we want it to be as welcoming and nice to live in as possible.
Some people dismiss PIE, because they think it’s just about plants and positive messages on the walls. While that is a real part of PIE, it becomes impactful when combined with the other elements. It’s about improving within an organisation and making a sustainable long-lasting change to lives.
I think a really good part of our service is that we have a structure to our counselling service, but we’re also flexible within that space. We’re aware of the people that we’re working with. Some are less able to make regular appointments, they’ve had bad experiences with mental health services before, so I try to give a person-centred approach when I work and really tailor it to the individual and build a relationship that way.
I remember one resident who missed their first couple of appointments because they weren’t ready, but we kept it open for two extra weeks because they had told me they really wanted to do the sessions. This flexibility allowed them to make a major change in their life and they have now attended every single week since. They have gone on to build a good relationship with their counsellor and have taken on extra responsibility at the service. To have that kind of a major role in leading and having responsibility for something, really helps people to build higher self-esteem and higher confidence.
As we come out of lockdown, we’re hoping to get outside more and do more things safely. For mental health awareness week, we’ve got lots of events planned for residents and staff, in-person and online to get as many people involved. We’re encouraging all our homeless services to go on wellbeing walks and get involved with nature.
I think we’re definitely going in the right direction as a society in terms of prioritising mental health and one day it will be seen as important as physical health.
“Having a Mental Health Awareness Week really pushes people to consider its importance a little bit more. It can affect people, companies, organisations and it’s important to recognise its impact and hopefully this will mean we can move away from treating it as a novelty, as we have done in the past.”
It’s a great opportunity for our teams to come together to plan activities. Whether it’s targeted mental health chats, or it’s a bit more subtle, like a group activity that’s good for everyone’s wellbeing.
The more and more that people think talking about mental health is okay the better because the stigma has got to decrease. People have got to talk about how they’re feeling or at least know that there are other people that feel the same and that might make them feel a bit more comfortable.