Meet Our Assertive Engagement Team: A Service Dedicated to Supporting the Homeless During COVID-19

Published: 07 July 2020

Throughout COVID-19, our Mental Health Response Service (MHRS) have provided urgent response and home treatment to rough sleepers and homeless individuals who are experiencing mental health crisis.

This week we spoke with Katie Shaw and Kirsty Dent from our Assertive Engagement team, a division dedicated to working with rough sleepers and those who are homeless under our MHRS, to find out more about their work during this time.

What is the purpose of the Assertive Engagement team?

The purpose of the Assertive Engagement team specifically is to engage with homeless people and rough sleepers to provide essential mental health assessments and psychological treatment to those who need it.

We’re a specially commissioned service and we tend to work with groups who are on the fringe of society. Quite often these people are not equipped to keep up their physical and mental health and there tends to be complex issues such as substance abuse and trauma involved. This means that they require specialist assessments and treatments. 

In short, it’s our job to ensure they get this help and also to encourage them to engage with us and use our mental health services to help them improve and live a fulfilled, healthy life.

 

How has your team been impacted by COVID-19?

During COVID-19, we have seen an increase in demand and we are really proud of how the team handled this. Everyone ensured it was possible for us to continue working and that we’re able to respond quickly and compassionately to people who often find it very difficult to engage with our services.

It hasn’t been easy. Usually the people we work with are digitally distanced and therefore hard to locate and reach out to. Many of our service users have experienced an increased need for our services during this time, as all of the things that keep them feeling well, such as substances and seeing other people out and about, have been taken away from them.

We have experienced increased home-based interventions for those living in hostels and such, and we have also set up a drop-in service where homeless individuals can come and present themselves and have the opportunity to be signposted to our services and others that may benefit their specific needs.

Logistically, we have been working at a different base to allow for social distancing. We also needed to make sure we could protect ourselves when continuing with face-to-face appointments, so things like PPE quickly became a big part of the job.

To be honest, our team just ‘got on with things’ as we see it as our duty and part of our job, but we couldn’t have done it without support from others. The Infection Prevention and Control have been phenomenal in making sure we feel protected and we have all of the systems and trainings in place.

 

In what ways has the increase in demand affected your team?

There has unfortunately been an increase in psychosis during this time, which we believe is due to the stress caused to them during these challenging times. When this happens, it’s our job to assess these presentations and understand the need. A lot of homeless people don’t want to be assessed or use our services, so the problem we have is ensuring we stay in touch with them and help them find the courage to accept our help.

We don’t work in an unplanned way, which basically means that appointments are set up and we provide home-based treatments when there’s significant risk and problems. Quite often these appointments need to be set up multiple times before we see the person, but we are persistent as we believe everyone deserves the treatment they need.

 

How do you think your team have handled the crisis?

Our team have been wonderful. They’ve been doing really well – when I asked if there’s anyone willing to go in face-to-face no one declined, they all stepped up and showed willing.

I’m proud of us for being consistent and stepping up to this challenge. Without our help, there would be a lot of individuals who are very unwell going without help and treatment. We’ve worked closely with the Council and supported one another to ensure the support line is always there for those who need it.

 

What has helped you along the way?

Just the general support – knowing you can voice your concerns and that you will be heard. Our team are extremely well supported. At no point have we felt pressured to act any kind of way, that’s really helped because we’ve never felt under pressure we have a choice and we want to do our jobs.

 

Do you have anything you would like to share with the public at this time?

The services to help the homeless – places like the council, the mayor – are still accepting donations. Mental health response donation drives for toiletries, food and other things are still going ahead.

There are a lot of homeless people who have gone into homes during this time and don’t have any possessions. They are left with nothing and quite often, they’re struggling to adjust.

If anyone is able to, please do consider donating. Our team are able to pick up any donations and deliver them to those who need it. If you’re interested in finding out more, please don’t hesitate to email katie.shaw11@nhs.net.

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