Homeless Outreach Advanced Nurse Practitioner Jenny has been working throughout the pandemic in Norwich alongside mental health nurse Ollie and colleagues from the Pathways team. At the onset of COVID the workforce quickly arranged into two teams of outreach workers in order to avoid cross contamination and burnout, working on alternate days and planned long days of outreach.
Patients were categorised in order of priority, depending on whether they were shielding or isolating, but also considering additional risks, such as domestic abuse, substance misuse, and physical and mental health concerns.
Jenny said, “This very much felt like getting back to basics, starting at the beginning, often with some of our most at risk patients, many of whom we had struggled for years to settle into accommodation due to the ‘perceived complexities’ of the person’s needs and a high level of risk.” Sadly some of the people supported had significant mental health difficulties and difficult offending histories, which had caused them to fall through the gaps and become a ‘hot potato’ where organisations see the responsibility for their care as sitting elsewhere.
The initial priority of Jenny and the team was to start with the basics in terms of arranging beds, food, toiletries and clothing. Substance use needs were addressed, plus prescriptions and also things to keep people occupied. For one gentleman a guitar was obtained, a radio and books for another.
Jenny said, “The most important factor in all of this was about relationships… we could offer any degree of accommodation and support but we were working with a group of individuals who had been let down repeatedly by services in the past and struggled to trust others.”
“For many in society the lockdown period enabled a period of reflection and this was equally the case for our patients, many perceived this as an opportunity and this period really allowed us the freedom to build these relationships and provide an accessible, reliable and consistent approach that so many needed.”
This year has highlighted the importance of face-to-face contact and the significance of relationship building. Working together with other agencies was already the foundation of the Pathways team, and the benefit of this was even more important during lockdown.