How do our residential services support those with mental health needs in lockdown?

We spoke to Amy Dawe, Lead Manager of Thames Reach’s Bermondsey Project, supporting people with mental health needs. She explains how communication between staff and residents is key in understanding the pandemic

How do our residential services support those with mental health needs in lockdown?

“I’m the Lead Manager of the Bermondsey Project, which is three residential buildings in the area, each with ten self-contained or studio flats. Our project is mixed gender, but the majority of our residents are men. All residents have been referred to us from the mental health team and residents’ support needs fluctuate and the nature of mental health is that support needs are not always straightforward; someone can go from being stable to unstable fairly quickly. So within the project we deliver housing management and provide key work support – everyone is on a support plan tailored to their individual needs. We are always monitoring any safeguarding concerns and work closely with partner organisations; usually we have lots of different people coming in, like occupational therapists, social workers, carers, mental health professionals.

“Service users moving on to the next step is at the forefront of everyone’s plan throughout their time with us. This is generally two years but this is assessed on an individual basis. The client group we work with are often not suited to the private rental sector, so we need to make sure they’re supported in the right way.

“Changes during lockdown have been mostly around informing and advising residents about the situation, as some don’t follow the news and some don’t understand the situation. For instance we’ve had to make sure they’re aware that the shops they visit all the time are laid out differently and not always open the way they usually are. Communicating change is something we need to do regularly as well as reminders about personal hygiene. It is particularly important that we make sure those with additional health needs know to shield themselves. We’ve distributed leaflets and letters as well as speaking with them face-to-face while observing social distancing around the projects. Some residents need to be reminded about the new rules but we are around to make sure that no one gets left behind. The general feedback from residents is that the regular contact makes them feel cared for; we get in touch with them to make sure that they don’t have symptoms and have their essentials fully stocked. With fewer members of staff we’re running a skeleton staff at the moment who have really pulled together. Rob, who runs the MIMO course in the Employment and Skills team, has been redeployed here and he’s been amazing. He’s been decorating and deep-cleaning our rooms and communal areas, we’re so grateful for his work. As for staff, the team have felt valued by Thames Reach; our PPE deliveries have come very quickly, and when we did run low our stocks were replenished the next day with no issues. It’s been clear that our health and safety is really important.

“Some real positives have come from the current situation, in that we’ve seen the sheer dedication of our staff. We’ve been low in number but no one has complained and people have taken on new roles and responsibilities to fill the gaps and make sure the service we provide is still of the same high standard. I’m really proud of the team and how they’ve adapted, they’re a real credit to us and Thames Reach.”

– Amy Dawe, Lead Manager, Bermondsey Project

Keeping vulnerable women safe in lockdown

Anthony Donnelly, lead worker at our women-only residential project in Lambeth, talks about how residents and staff are adapting to lockdown

Keeping vulnerable women safe in lockdown

We caught up with Anthony Donnelly, who manages our women’s residential service in Lambeth. The project works with women with multiple and often complex issues, and as a residential service it plays a significant role in supporting women who may be vulnerable in a mixed-gender setting. Anthony tells us how staff and residents alike are adapting well during the lockdown. 

 It’s about seven weeks into lockdown now and as there are only five women living at our project, we can personalise the support we provide and can take into account everyone’s needs. For example, three people in the house are in a high-risk category, so we have separated the two bathrooms we have, one on the first floor and another downstairs, so that high-risk residents have sufficient space and shielding is able to take place. Cleaning efforts have increased during this time too; we have cleaners coming more regularly, ensuring hygienic conditions for everyone.

In lockdown it’s clear to see how entrenched rough sleeping has a big impact on self-esteem, as sometimes the residents have less concern for their own wellbeing. Years of street activity is often part of their psyche, even after our residents have been able to move away from the streets, and that level of social distancing has proven difficult for some of the women at our project. Where there are multiple issues, like underlying conditions or mental health issues for example, not being in contact with family members and friends is incredibly difficult. Overall though, our client group tend to have a much lighter social footprint than those in mainstream living as their social networks are often smaller than or not as supportive. Having our project as a base has been essential in keeping all our residents safe.

In terms of issues that disproportionately affect women, we have been hearing in the news that there has been an increase in domestic abuse cases since lockdown, but fortunately this has not something we have found among residents here. We have had to implement a ban on visitors, which is not ideal for wellbeing and morale but has to be done in these circumstances.

Residents being able to move on from the project isn’t really possible at the moment but we have recently taken in a new resident; this was all done via phone and with social distancing in mind. It’s quite an uncomfortable and potentially upsetting way to go about entering new accommodation for the first time, so I’m looking forward to being able to welcome people properly again. There are a couple of women ready for moving on to rented accommodation but unfortunately they are both in the high-risk category so will not be able to do so until the situation has changed.

The psychological impact of the pandemic isn’t too evident yet, but we have additional psychological support offered at Waterloo Project [another Thames Reach project]. Residents are starting to take up the offer and we are helping facilitate this, but there is some extra caution surrounding accessing external health services with residents, due to social distancing. I am keeping in contact with residents via phone to let them know about meals and services, so I can check in with them without physical proximity. We have been getting food parcels of freshly prepared meals supplied via local authorities, who have been really helpful and cooperative. Above all else, our project remains a supportive and safe base for vulnerable women and those with experience of homelessness. We are really pleased to be able to keep this service running throughout the pandemic.

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