Health and Homeless Charge Nurse
My post within the South Ayrshire Community Mental Health Team covers five hostels and several hundred temporary furnished homeless flats and I work with any individual experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. Geographically, South Ayrshire is semi-rural and the issues that clients present with are as varied as our landscape. The age range is varied, and the presenting issues can range from social problems to health and wellbeing, no two days are ever the same and every day I get to meet some of the most courageous and brave individuals. Rough sleepers are often what we assume our homeless population to look like, but there are many aspects of the homeless including temporary flats, hostels, individuals and family units.
I wanted to work with a marginalised group, whose voices are seldom heard. Working in homeless and inclusion health is a real privilege, and I am very fortunate to work in a health board that supports and addresses the vulnerabilities that people experience. Homelessness is never only about not having a home but is part of a much bigger story of complex health and social needs. The work I do enables equitable access to services across all sectors of health and wellbeing and that means providing care where it is needed. My vision is a community where compassion is extended to everyone.
Effective communication and empathy are the most important skills for my role. A large part of my job is building good relationships and trust. I meet with people wherever they are , listen carefully to their stories and undertake a clinical assessment to determine what their needs are so that I can help them navigate the right support. It’s about letting them know I’m here – this could be as simple as knocking the door of their room in the hostel, or a chance encounter on the stairs. It’s about being present when they need support, bringing my nursing expertise to assessing their mental and physical health and being there to listen. It’s also important to build solid relationships with other agencies – including with local police, social services, public health/ health improvement as well as the voluntary sector. I consider supporting the staff from other organisations as part of my role, if there are any adverse events within the homeless services I try to make time to check in with colleagues and use my expertise as a mental health nurse to support them too. Sometimes people just need to know that someone else cares about their experiences.
I met a woman several years ago whilst she was in homeless and met her again recently. When she arrived at my clinic her first words were “I’m so glad it’s you, you will understand.” There was a recognition that we were both ‘in it together’ and although this was a journey she would make by herself, she knew I would be in her corner cheering her on. To be allowed to be involved in somebody’s else’s life, even just for a short period of time, is both a big responsibility and a great honour. I’m hopeful of being able to really make a difference by becoming a Queen’s Nurse. While it is a huge privilege for me, the really valuable outcome is not about me, it is about raising awareness of the diverse roles of community nurses but more importantly of the people who find themselves homeless; a population that are underrepresented and vulnerable.