Homeless service looks to psychology

Ella Rhodes reports.

An innovative approach to homeless hostels with psychology at its heart is being adopted in Sheffield. The city council is looking to commission a psychological service to take up the challenge of transforming its homeless supported accommodation services into psychologically informed environments.

This will be a two-year project, starting in April, and working across seven sites, which cover 76 staff and 294 residents. The main focus of the new provider will be to train and improve the skills of the staff and help them better understand the many needs and challenges of working with homeless people – with an aim to improve the working and living environments of those who use the hostels.

Sheffield City Council carried out a health needs audit this year illustrating the complex problems faced by homeless people; it found that the number of homeless people with a diagnosed mental health problem was over double that of the general population.

We spoke to the council’s Strategic Commissioner for Mental Health, Melanie Hall, a registered social worker with a history of working within mental health teams. She and colleague Ann Ellis, who has worked extensively in homeless services, both saw psychologically informed environments (PIEs) as an effective way to help and support a complex population.

Hall explained why she saw such a benefit from the involvement of psychology in services: ‘While in practice I worked in a multidisciplinary team that included psychology. I saw the benefits to service users and staff; the former weren’t excluded from services because of behaviours caused by their complex needs, and staff felt supported, reducing burn out.’

Ellis also has an interest in helping clients with particularly complex needs: in the homeless population many struggle not only with mental health problems but also with addiction and brain injury. She said: ‘[The homeless population] often fail to get help from mental health services, either because of alcohol usage or being diagnosed as having a “personality disorder”. These are the men and women who circulate repeatedly through our homeless services.’

A big issue for providers, Ellis said, was the lack of support they often receive from mental health services: ‘This is both in terms of personal support, where people may be housing support workers rather than trained social workers, and in particular in terms of bespoke training on how to work with specific individuals, understanding their triggers and working consistently as a team with individuals.’

Hall said she hoped to change the way commissioners and providers of services understand and tackle the behaviours that can lead to homelessness using reflective practice. She added: ‘There is evidence that a more psychologically informed approach promotes recovery, and we think we can improve our customers’ experience and outcomes by supporting our service providers to introduce and embed the approach.’

If your psychological service would be interested in bidding on the PIEs project in Sheffield visit yortender.co.uk and register to ask questions and bid.

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