Nurses and other professionals from Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust will be sleeping rough for the night to highlight the links between homeless and poor mental health and raise money for those in need.
The scheme is the brainchild of nurse Charlotte White, community manager for the trust’s Early Intervention Team based at Northgate Hospital in Great Yarmouth.
“Maybe if you understand what someone goes through it is easier to empathise with them”
Having trained and worked as an adult nurse, she said joining the team at the mental health trust had been a real eye-opener, especially seeing the impact of homelessness on people’s mental wellbeing.
“I joined the team in August last year as community manager and having been an adult nurse I hadn’t really experienced the true impact of homelessness until I came here,” she told Nursing Times.
“After a couple of team meetings, it became clear how prevalent it was – someone has no electric, someone living in a tent,” said Ms White.
“I spent two hours searching for someone in a tent along Great Yarmouth coastline to check on them,” she said. “I have delivered quilts because people have had nothing to sleep in.”
She added: “We often dig into our own wage packets to buy food. You knew it was there but I hadn’t really realised the impact homelessness was having on the people we’re trying to looking after.”
“People that are homeless are often the ones we have most difficulty in engaging with”
Ms White said homelessness – and lack of a stable base – often made it harder for people to access services and for health professionals to reach out to them.
“People that are homeless are often the ones we have most difficulty in engaging with,” she said. “Home can be a really good protective factor and when people don’t have a home it can be extremely stressful and affect their mental health more.”
The hope is that the sleep-out will help raise awareness of the some of the complexities her team deal with day to day, when it comes to helping and treating homeless people with psychosis.
At least 10 members of staff from the multi-disciplinary Early Intervention Team will be taking part in the sleep-out, including a nurse, nurse prescriber, therapist, psychologist, peer support worker, and social worker.
They will be joined by nurses and colleagues from other teams, including social services, for the event on 20 April, which will see participants hand out food parcels and offer support to homeless people before bedding down outside Northgate Hospital from 9pm to 6am.
“We’re going to be handing out some food parcels and are hoping to have some conversations, if people are willing, to gain a better understanding,” said Ms White.
“More than anything, we are trying to promote the link between mental health and homelessness,” she said. “We’re to trying to explain that it’s not just the challenges of being homeless but also the impact on mental health and the fact it can take longer to treat someone.
“Even just finding people can be hard, because they are sofa-surfing and moving on all the time,” she said. “It can be hard to get hold of them and sometimes by the time we have caught up with them they have become really poorly.”
“We’re going to be handing out some food parcels and are hoping to have some conversations”
Ms White said professionals taking part in the scheme would be sleeping in sleeping bags on the street just outside the hospital.
“It is quite a scary prospect to do this for a night, but when it comes to understanding what someone who is genuinely homeless goes through it is not going to be the same because it is just one night,” she said.
“At least we can gain some sort of understanding of what it feels like and maybe if you understand what someone goes through it is easier to empathise with them and give them support,” she said.
The team will be fundraising for local foodbanks and Tribal Trust, a local support network that provides vital supplies to those who are homeless or in need, including food, warm clothing and toiletries.
They have already raised more than £400 so far. Nurses and others can support their efforts by making a donation though the team’s JustGiving page