This month we’re taking a closer look at Leicester’s Homeless Mental Health Service (HMHS) and the vital work that it does in the city.
The team has been recognised nationally as a model of excellence in various research articles and was awarded the Health & Social Care award – for ‘Mental Health & Wellbeing’ in 2008 – recognising their achievements in reducing health inequalities and ensuring ease of access to mental health services & support. Their work on the streets with the City Council’s Outreach team attracted coverage in the local media and national attention from Shelter, Aneemo and other important organisations in the homelessness field.
We spoke to Phil Johnson and Suzanne Elliott (pictured prior to the start of the pandemic) who told us more about their work…
Tell us about your roles and how you long you’ve been working as part of the Homeless Mental Health Team
I’m Phil Johnson and I’ve been employed as a mental health practitioner (MHP) & Nurse with the service since 2002, and took on the Senior MHP role in 2004, leading & supervising the MHP team in day to day operational management & service development.
I’m Suzanne Elliott, Clinical Psychologist with the Homeless Mental Health Service (HMHS) and I have been with the team for 15 years. My role is about supporting the psychological wellbeing of people who are homeless and also supporting staff teams to make their services more psychologically healthy for service users and workers. This means I offer direct 1:1 psychological therapy or neuropsychological assessment with people who are homeless, alongside lots of indirect work such as training, reflective practice and consultation for teams working in the city with people who are homeless. I also do a lot of work supporting agencies to work together collaboratively.
What does the HMHS offer for people in Leicester?
The HMHS offers people who are homeless in Leicester City individualised mental health assessment & support as well as access to mainstream NHS mental health services locally provided within Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust (LPT).
We offer an ‘open door’ policy providing flexible access to anyone who is without permanent accommodation (or within 3 months of new tenancy commencement), and accept referrals from anyone meeting this criteria presenting with mental health issues and requiring further intervention. For those wanting to find out more specific details, we have a flyer which can be downloaded and shared.
Can you tell us about how Covid-19 has impacted your service?
We are very proud to have managed to ensure delivery of a mental health service throughout every working day during the pandemic without fail, providing support to disadvantaged service users referred to us. However, it has been a very challenging time for everyone, and throughout the Covid pandemic we have been restricted to offering mainly a telephone based service, alongside face to face appointments for urgent or essential appointments.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
We enjoy the opportunity to meet so many varied interesting people, and offer support and the opportunity to make positive changes to people’s lives. People we meet have often endured such traumatic and difficult or challenging circumstances and the chance to try to help alleviate this in some way offers great personal reward and satisfaction. We also enjoy using the skills we have to support people to access systems which can be very tricky such as the housing, health or benefits systems. We enjoy working in partnership with all the agencies in Leicester who support people who are homeless; we really do help each other do a better job for the people of Leicester if we work together.
What do you find most challenging?
We find the most challenging aspect of our work is trying to negotiate difficult obstacles preventing people from moving on with their lives, and often these can be within systems where these barriers hinder not only service users from moving on, but also ourselves from assisting them to do so. We are always working with other agencies to remove as many of these barriers as possible.
Can you tell us more about the local partnerships that you are involved in?
We are part of the multi-agency approach to tackling homelessness in Leicester – ordinarily (in non covid times) based within the nationally recognised Dawn centre. This operates under a ‘one-stop-shop’ model, whereby anyone who is homeless can walk in & access immediate support with benefits, housing advice & access to emergency accommodation, practical help, shower, change of clothes, access to a mental health assessment & GP appointment usually on the same day. This joint working ensures our service users receive a multi-faceted package of support, which goes along way to resolving many of their immediate problems contributing to or resulting from homelessness.
We are key members of the Multi-Agency Care Collaborative (MACC) who meet weekly to discuss & attempt to resolve issues preventing service users with complex problems accessing services & support. Through this we have experienced many positive outcomes where ordinarily a person may have been stuck living a ‘street homeless lifestyle’. We are also represented on the multi-agency – ‘Street lifestyle Group’ – where services seek to address issues around reducing behaviours associated with living a ‘street lifestyle’ impacting on the wider community and city centre services. This collective approach assists service users to develop healthier coping strategies and improvement in their social circumstances.
We are also represented on the Homeless Charter by the LPT Chair – Cathy Ellis – who represents not only the HMHS but all mental health & community services provided by LPT.
Homelessness services across the country know Leicester to be a place of outstanding good practice in relation to homelessness; this is because all agencies supporting people who are homeless in Leicester work closely together. All agencies have a lot of respect for each other and are in regular contact with each other. Leicester’s reputation is also enhanced by having a specialist GP and mental health service for people who are homeless and a multi-agency centre where support can be accessed quickly and easily which can help people to address problems that get in the way of them accessing safe, permanent accommodation; this is not the case in many other cities.
For more information about the Homeless Mental Health service, including how to make a referral during the Covid-19 pandemic, please download an information flyer. A separate flyer is available which describes the full service offered outside of current Covid-19 restrictions.