Driving home today from a visit to a homeless service, I was reminded of the quote, “you can judge a society by the way it treats its prisoners, its minorities, the poor and the infirm”.
I had the pleasure of spending the morning with a community matron for the homeless from Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Partnership. Jane Morton set up her service in 2010 when she noticed that people with no fixed address were frequently admitted to hospital.
Intuitively we know that homeless people have chaotic lives. They may be coping with financial problems, misuse drugs and/or alcohol and often have fractured family lives. However, the way we deliver health care does not meet these complex needs and standard pathways of care do not work for these patients.
As Jane says, sometimes you have to take the clinic to the person rather than expect them to turn up and it is this flexibility that helps them engage. Jane’s model of care is truly holistic, encompassing the health, social and emotional needs of her patients. She knows and understands the community that homeless people live in. She works early mornings and at night, meeting the homeless and engaging with them. But most of all she has the experience and knowledge to know how to respond to their needs.
Jane’s service has been successful in reducing hospial admissions but its real success is improving the lives of her patients through care, empathy, humanity and kindness.
I have learnt a lot today about homelessness but I have also learnt about how we should look out for those who do not know how look after themselves. These are people who do not engage with health services and nurses have a role in ensuring they do not fall through the gaps.