their mental ill-health . The more they used , the more they needed to reach the numbness they required .
UNTRUSTING OF SUPPORT By the time they were housed by Druglink Choices , they were in a very poor way , and it took several meetings to persuade them to settle inside . They were used to the woods and comfortable with what they knew , despite the conditions . They were untrusting of support workers and nervous around anyone in a position of authority . They were especially uneasy about being sent back to their country of origin as they did not have settled status here in the UK – obviously , this also meant that they had been
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unable to access benefits , which made money scarce and they sometimes had to beg for money for food and alcohol .
They were insistent they remained together , so they were housed in a four-bedroomed private rented property and given a floating support worker . From week one , despite the language barrier , the change in them was rapid and palpable . The language barrier was an initial problem , but as time moved on , it appeared that one of the group knew more English than he ’ d previously disclosed and he acted as the go-between for the group . They had daily house meetings which largely consisted of hand gestures , drawings , and the
use of Google Translate ( which isn ’ t always accurate , leading to much hilarity on a few occasions ).
They kept the house spotless , did their chores , made their beds every day and with the help of the local food bank , started to look after themselves physically . Three of them stopped using alcohol completely and the fourth cut down considerably . As lockdown restrictions eased we were in a race against the clock to support them in gaining settled status to claim benefit and have recourse to public funds . We were concerned that if they couldn ’ t get access to housing benefit they would have had to return to the woods if the local authority withdrew financial support , and I didn ’ t think the eldest man would survive that .
I am happy to say that the group are still in a Druglink Choices house going from strength to strength , with three of them learning English online with the use of a donated laptop and tablet . They are humbled by the support they have received from the community , their support workers and the local church . The more help they accepted the more they understood that people cared . This in itself improved their feeling of self-worth , leading to improved mental health outcomes . They still have a long way to go in terms of getting to the root cause of their mental health issues but they have opportunities and the chance to build self-confidence and eventually , hopefully , gain independence .
A SENSE OF BELONGING According to Maslow ’ s hierarchy of needs , feeling loved and like you belong in society comes two layers up the pyramid from the basic level of a human ’ s physiological need for food and shelter – and just one
FAR LEFT : Homeless people camp in a small copse on Clapham Common on Christmas Eve , 2019 . Guy Bell / Alamy . LEFT : Living with tent and tarpaulins , semi-permanently hidden among trees in Bristol , 2015 . Charles Stirling / Alamy .
' The language barrier was an initial problem but the use of Google Translate ( which isn ’ t always accurate ), led to much hilarity on a few occasions .'
above the need for safety . If we do not reach out to help those who are forced to rough sleep , they will eternally remain at the basic two levels of the hierarchy of needs , never reaching a sense of belonging and thus never addressing the mental health issues they are experiencing as they never get beyond pure survival . As a society , we seem to be talking about mental health more openly and are more accepting of it – one of the few positives to arise from the global pandemic .
I have seen these men at the depths of depression and their nascent recovery when given shelter , safety and kindness . A connection with this community and a target to lower rough sleeping amongst them could minimise the numbers of street homeless in London and the South East – which would go a long way to help reduce homelessness in England . Helping this group gain basic needs will put us a position to break down their mental health barriers , support that these vulnerable people desperately need .
www . druglink . co . uk Wendy Nee is director of care and support services at Druglink