Volunteer Klarissa on art as therapy

Volunteers’ Week: Klarissa volunteers at one of our hostels, running an art group for residents

Volunteer Klarissa on art as therapy

Klarissa volunteers with Thames Reach, running an art group at one of our hostels in central London. She has been doing this since the start of the year, and reflects on what it means for residents to get involved with a creative practice, as well as what she has learned from the experience.

“I come in every Wednesday and run an art workshop in the afternoon. It’s important that I keep the structure as open as possible, so people don’t feel put off by a lack of experience or confidence in making art. The objective certainly isn’t to produce a perfect painting or drawing, it’s to have some time and space to be freely creative, in a way that feels comfortable.

“When I started volunteering, I came into it quite naïve; I was full of enthusiasm and was very amped up at first but then I realised that I’m coming into an environment where someone might be finding themselves again, they might be at the beginning of their journey. I now know that I need to take a back seat and hold the space. Being gentle and taking things slowly can be far more inviting than coming to a group where the facilitator is super happy and chirpy; it’s been a process trying to find that balance, but a very rewarding one.

“The residents are great, it’s been a wonderful experience meeting new people with new creative ideas to work on together. We’ve been able to lean into the challenges that come with being creative, the ongoing hope is to work through cycles of low self-esteem to find that all creativity is valuable and valid. It’s so easy to feel embarrassed by art-making if you’re not confident with what you’re doing, but leaning into that is a skill that we’re all trying to learn. Doing something that can free us from our daily routine and anxieties can be therapeutic in itself. Then there’s the production element of it: once an artwork has been made, it’s a real statement of showing people who you are and how you appear in the world! There is a real issue with people feeling invisible once they’ve experienced homelessness, but making art can be one way to show people how you feel, and how you express yourself. I have gotten to know people at the project not necessarily by them telling me everything, but through the art they are making.

“Having the space for making art, having a chat and being creative every Wednesday means that residents know it’s here, as something completely separate from their usual support networks and friendship groups. People come to the art group with all kinds of issues going on in their lives, but I hope to create a space where they can do something outside of that for a couple of hours. I don’t do this in the expectation that it will change anyone’s life; although I’m interested in therapeutic activites, I’m not a trained therapist, so I have to manage expectations. If it can just change someone’s Wednesday, then I’m happy.”

Interview: Addressing healthcare inequalities in our hostels

Our interview with Yves, manager of the Robertson Street hostel accommodating residents over the age of 40 with mixed support needs, discusses health inequalities among residents

Interview: Addressing healthcare inequalities in our hostels

Health inequalities are one of the main concerns for Thames Reach in our work to end street homelessness. We spoke with Yves, who manages our Robertson Street hostel in south London, on the work they are doing to ensure more people are getting access to the support they need.

Hi Yves, can you introduce us to your service?

Robertson Street is located in Lambeth, south London, and is what you would call a ‘first stage’ hostel, meaning we can get referrals from a range of sources through Lambeth’s Vulnerable Adults Pathway. We have a capacity for 42 residents and ideally each resident’s length of stay is between six months and two years.

What kind of support do residents have access to during that time?

We are an accommodation-based service to  people over 40, so provide access and signposting to support. We want to help residents to be able to move on to independent or semi-independent living following a stay here. We’re part of the Lambeth Vulnerable Adults Pathway, and accommodate residents with a range of different and complex needs. These support needs may have previously contributed to their homelessness or not being able to maintain tenancies or other forms of accommodation. Other hostels in the borough work with different age groups, which is why we specialise in over 40s. We do have a couple of people under 40 but this is because their complex physical, or other, needs cannot be met in other services.

What is your approach to addressing healthcare inequalities at Robertson Street?  

We strive to counteract inequalities and promote inclusion. Inequalities take several forms when we are working with people who have experienced street homelessness, as we must support people to bridge these inequalities, mostly in terms of healthcare. One of the things we do is work with the pathway manager and other external partnerships in order for people to move into needs-based accommodation. It is paramount that an individual can access the support they need. We have a nurse and GP clinic once a week at Robertson Street, as well as a prescribing clinic, and we have very good connections to community mental health services. We really make health a priority. Initial assessment work is carried out in-house when residents first move in, then we can signpost to physical, mental and other medical advice externally, meaning they can continue to get support in the community after they move on. We support residents to attend appointments, working with partnership agencies and Groundswell. This level of encouragement and support enables a smoother move-on into the community when the time is right.

What challenges has your hostel faced during the pandemic?

The main challenges were the move-on pathway becoming less mobile than usual. The repercussion for move-on being unavailable was that we couldn’t move people into the hostel either, so incoming and outgoing options were very limited. Community services that we always promote were facing closures and limited availability, such as day centres, mental health support, drug and alcohol services and other community-based resources, so we had to try our best to keep up momentum and motivation for move-on. While moving services online to Zoom is a good way of keeping people safe, many residents have found this difficult to engage with. We have been keeping residents motivated that their move-on will be happening eventually and kept preparation going. As a team we’ve accomplished this really well, and have been able to keep morale up. Aside from our normal work we had to implement extra cleaning on-site, but it made a big difference; we reduced risk of infection by sanitising the building twice every shift and educating residents about social distancing, risk management and maintaining safe practices.

What positive outcomes have emerged from overcoming these challenges?

We have a great team with good adaptability who can deal with and are supportive of a range of needs. There is a good balance between experienced members of staff and enthusiasm of people who have recently come to work in the sector. I’m proud that we’ve been able to provide a consistent and continual service throughout the pandemic, which reflects the project and Thames Reach as an organisation; we haven’t had to defer anything. Anything that wasn’t available in the community we brought in; our next step is now integrating residents and services back into the community.

New hostel and moving-on accommodation in Lambeth

Our new hostels in Lambeth are helping people move on from street homelessness towards independent living. We spoke with Gareth Bowen, lead manager at Acre Lane and Clarence Avenue projects, about how this is working after the ‘Everyone In’ initiative.

New hostel and moving-on accommodation in Lambeth

Can you tell us about the projects you manage?
Clarence Avenue is an eight-bed project, all self-contained studio flats with en-suite bathrooms and kitchens. We are one of the hostels under Lambeth council’s Vulnerable Adults Pathway to help people come off the streets. We work with residents to help them get to where they need to be. When they first arrive, they will be assessed to see how independent they are and what they might need help with.

At Clarence Avenue, staff provide support for a wide range of issues that residents may arrive with, as well as helping with daily tasks such as budgeting and shopping. Once they are ready, residents will be referred to Clearing House, which is a form of social housing on a two year tenancy, and will be assigned a support worker from the TST (Tenancy Sustainment Team), making sure their support needs are covered. In Clarence Avenue there is always a member of staff available at reception to answer any urgent queries and monitor people entering and exiting the building. The clients there make appointments to see their support worker, which helps to prepare them for more independent living and engaging with services in the community.

I also manage Acre Lane, which is Thames Reach’s newest hostel. Between January and March, it was acting as a cold weather shelter. If outreach workers found someone sleeping rough in Lambeth they could bring them here to be accommodated while we found out more about them . The building is currently being refitted and redecorated;. Part of that refit is having one studio downstairs which is more isolated, which is reserved for a vulnerable person who may benefit from living closer to staff areas.

How does the Lambeth Vulnerable Adults Pathway work?
Lambeth council work hard to ensure all people rough sleeping are made an offer of accommodation. Several Thames Reach hostels are commissioned by Lambeth, so Robertson Street, The Waterloo Project, Lambeth High Street, Martha Jones House, and now Acre Lane and Clarence Avenue. The council commission projects such as ours within their Vulnerable Adults Pathway, including supported housing, and people can move between them as required, with the end goal of moving out of supported accommodation and maintaining their own tenancy. Street homelessness is often complex and not straightforward to resolve, so we work with people to address their support needs.

What positive outcomes have you seen so far?
Trying to test people’s abilities to live independently has its challenges but residents having more freedom at Acre Lane has been working well. We run cooking classes once a week on each floor; some of our residents have not had to cook for themselves in a long time, so building up these skills is going to make a huge difference. While we provide support based on their needs, we also need to make sure we’re covering the everyday tasks and skills that residents will need to have in place in order to live well independently, so for example we can go to the shops with them if they need it, as well as signposting to external services, to help them engage more with the wider communities.

When Acre Lane was the cold weather shelter, we housed a lot of people in a very short space of time, which was really impressive.. Once people were housed, we were able to focus  on longer-term solutions, and again this was focused on the support needs of the individual. The team of staff have done really well, and worked so hard to help people move on in difficult circumstances. The project was set up very quickly over the winter months and everyone has had to be very adaptable and flexible, it’s been a strong team effort.

Mark’s story

After receiving support at our Robertson Street hostel, Mark is now saving up to furnish his new flat

Mark’s story

Mark arrived at our Robertson Street hostel in January 2020, having struggled for a long time with alcoholism.

He had spent many years working on production of long running ITV show The Bill as a driver, transporting light and sound equipment, as well as working on Eastenders and a number of films. The job was intensive and he would often be working seven days a week. When production of the show ended in 2010, though, Mark found himself at a loss and struggled to find new work. ‘When production finished on The Bill, that’s really when I started drinking,’ he says.

Whilst working on the show, Mark rarely used to drink, as he would often have to be up to start work at three or four in the morning, but after the show finished, he lost contact with a lot of people, and began to feel isolated.

Then his mother and brother both sadly passed away, and Mark began to drink heavily.

‘When you’re drinking the first thing you do in the morning is run to the toilet and you’re heaving up but there’s nothing there to come up. You can’t eat, you can’t drink, you can’t even drink water. You get the shakes, bad nightmares, sweats, you don’t look or feel good,’ he says.

Since arriving at Robertson Street, Mark has received a lot of support from his key worker, Alison, who told him that getting a place of his own was possible once he’d gotten help for his drinking.

Alison has been amazed by the progress Mark has made. ‘He’s become so resilient,’ she says. ‘The difference we’ve seen in him from when he arrived to now is huge.’

‘The people here actually care,’ Mark says. ‘The staff are absolutely amazing.’

Nine months into his stay at Robertson Street, Mark is doing well and is spending lots of time in the gym. Alison has helped him get the backdated Personal Independence Payments he was owed, and he has now saved up some money, which he intends to use on furnishing his new flat.

‘I know if I touch the money I’ll spend it on booze and lose everything,’ he says. ‘So instead I’m focusing hard on just saving everything for the flat.’

Mark is also hoping to get a job soon, and to save up further for a car and a holiday. ‘Having something like this to aim for is helping me stay sober.

Mark is one of many people who are moving on from street homelessness. This winter, we’re highlighting the work we’re doing to help these people move on and live more fulfilling lives. You can find out more about our Moving On From Homelessness campaign and the services supporting people like Mark by clicking the link here.

How are our different services adapting to the crisis?

How staff are coping, adapting and working together to help the most vulnerable during COVID-19

How are our different services adapting to the crisis?

While the pandemic has meant big changes in the way we all live and work, we still need to provide essential services to the people we work with, who are particularly affected.  Adapting and working collaboratively has been crucial in ensuring that not only is no one left behind to sleep rough, but the people who rely on us continue to receive the appropriate support. We spoke with three members of staff about how services have changed and about how they are coping at this time:

Matthew Davison is Lead Manager for TST (Tenancy Sustainment Team) South:

“We’re still operating a near-normal service from our office and across the community; we are still very much available for urgent and non-urgent queries and don’t want any of the people we work with to feel that they have been left alone at this difficult time. Social distancing is respected during any face-to-face contact, which is being prioritised for those in need of urgent support, which can mean a variety of things, whether this is having no income or health, legal or safeguarding issues. For non-urgent support, we are regularly checking in with clients over the phone. Welcome Sessions for new nominated clients are also being held over the phone as much as possible, and in some circumstances we are helping clients move into new properties.

The team are facing challenges, mostly with the reality of having to social-distance themselves. For example, due to the nature of some types of medication, some clients have had no option but to go to pharmacies in person to collect their prescriptions. There has also been a lack of clarity around whether clients have been, or should be, identified by the NHS as being in the high-risk ‘Shielding’ category. These have been dealt with very much on a case-by-case basis and we have been working together to put the needs of our clients first.”

Sarah Jeeves is our Learning & Development Officer. Alongside her work in the Central Services team, she has been providing support in one of our hostels.

“In terms of HR, it’s been a lot busier since the lockdown; on top of our day-to-day work we’ve been updating policies and processes, especially around sickness and working from home. There have been lots more enquiries and staff asking for advice, which is changing and updating as we go. Some of the team are working remotely so we’ve been having Microsoft Teams meetings, WhatsApp video meetings… it’s changing but we’re adapting to it well so far.

I started thinking about volunteering at the hostel after realising that many staff members would be self-isolating or shielding. Working in HR, I knew first-hand that the staffing shortages would be affecting our most essential services, and when I began coordinating our volunteers, I decided to wonder how I could make my work go further. The main differences between my normal work and working in our hostels is how you start to perceive things and organise your day differently. Whereas in HR there are systems and schedules, working with people with a range of needs means you need to be prepared to be more spontaneous and proactive.

The benefits to both the hostel and myself have been pretty clear, for example I imagine it was a relief to have someone who knows Thames Reach well and already works here providing support where necessary. Seeing our work in the hostels has allowed me to see how I might do my normal job differently; I organise our training schedules so I can see where Managers might need training in different areas. My confidence has definitely grown here, and I feel capable to do the work whether it is based in an office or hostel. I also have a background in mental health so I’m confident in how to approach certain situations. As I’m managing the volunteers, I know exactly where the gaps are in our essential services and am always happy to talk to staff, and members of the public, about how they might want to volunteer their time and skills during this difficult time.”

Jakub Turek is Senior Practitioner for the Rapid Response Team.

“In the current situation a lot of services have been temporarily closed or have limited access. For us in the Rapid Response Team it means we have to work harder and build stronger relationships with local authorities to ensure our clients are supported during this hard time which affects everybody.

We have been working closely with other Outreach services like never before. The solidarity in the homelessness sector in London has been really encouraging.

Our service has been delivered with no disturbance apart from receiving a much higher number of Street Link referrals. We have been responding to referrals every night 7 days a week. Our team have been working really hard to ensure all referrals are visited and clients are placed somewhere safe.”

New Thames Reach hostel officially opens

Event held to celebrate launch of Martha Jones House

New Thames Reach hostel officially opens

Today, Thames Reach held a launch event to officially celebrate its brand new hostel, Martha Jones House, in Vauxhall.

Over 30 people attended the official opening event including Thames Reach’s funders, Lambeth Council and building owners, Places for People.

Cllr Paul Gadsby, Lambeth Cabinet Member for Housing, said: “Martha Jones House is a marvellous development that will make a tremendous contribution to the support we can offer rough sleepers.

“But they’ll offer much more than a roof above their heads: the people staying there will get all the support needed to help them to move into independent living and stay off the street in the long term.”

Speaking at the event, Bill Tidnam, Thames Reach Chief Executive, said: “We are delighted with the new building which has been designed and built to such a high standard.

“It’s important that residents can live in a safe and dignified place that is less institutionalised, and we’re proud of the changes we are making to support our residents to achieve positive outcomes.

“We’re grateful to our funders, Lambeth Council, and owners of the building, Places for People, for playing a key role in developing our new facilities, but also to Monica Geraghty and the excellent staff team at the hostel for making the move to the new hostel such a success”.

The new hostel replaces Graham House – Thames Reach’s former largest hostel which accommodated 69 residents but closed in November 2018 due to ongoing developments at Vauxhall Square. Being smaller, the new hostel accommodates only 50 residents. Some residents successfully moved into independent living and supported accommodation as part of the move, and the remaining residents made the short move around the corner to the new building.

Residents move into new Thames Reach hostel

Martha Jones House opens in Vauxhall

Residents move into new Thames Reach hostel

Martha Jones House is Thames Reach’s newest hostel for rough sleepers, housing up to 50 residents in Vauxhall.

The building replaces Graham House – Thames Reach’s former flag-ship hostel, which was decommissioned at the beginning of November, 2018.

Although Martha Jones House is still Thames Reach’s largest hostel, it symbolises an important change in thinking towards smaller services that can offer more targeted one to one support.

The new hostel also offers a mix of larger bed spaces and self-contained flats complete with kitchen space and washroom facilities ensuring that it can cater for a much wider range of needs and abilities.

With an IT suite, communal space for group activities and access to all of Thames Reach’s employment training programmes, the hostel is better equipped to support and encourage residents to become more self-reliant and independent.

Monica Geraghty, lead manager at Martha Jones House, said:

“The transition from Graham House to Martha Jones House went really well, and all residents have now moved in.

“The building looks extremely different to Graham House with much more space, and has been developed to a very high and sustainable specification.

“The ultimate aim for our residents is for them to move away from homelessness and move on to lead a fulfilling life, and the new hostel encourages self-sufficiency and development in a nice comfortable setting,” she said.

The new building accepts pets and allows people with complex needs including drug and alcohol problems, poor mental health and challenging behaviour to stay for up to nine months