For the last eight months, staff from St Christopher’s have been working alongside the Croydon team at Evolve Housing + Support, who provide accommodation and support for people who are homeless.
In 2018, 7261 people died on the streets of England and Wales, with 148 of them dying in London. In response, academics at University College London (UCL) began researching why homeless people rarely access medical and end of life care. UCL approached St Christopher’s to work on an independently funded, pilot project working with two hostels, Palmer House and Alex House, to provide better support for homeless people who are at the end of their lives. Two social workers and two community nurses from the hospice have been working with hostel staff to support people who are homeless and in need of palliative care; support that is so much easier to access for the rest of us.
Michele King, a social worker at St Christopher’s, has been helping people at Palmer House. “Often there is an assumption that homeless people, because of their situation, can be ‘challenging’ or ‘difficult’ cases to work with, however; what I’ve discovered is the health and care system we try to fit them into doesn’t work effectively to meet their complex needs. It’s very difficult to integrate people into a rigid system that isn’t designed for people with no fixed abode and who often require varied support in response to traumatic experiences; but this inflexibility isn’t a reason to deny them proper care and support.
With the team from UCL and the hostel staff, we’ve been trying to find new and creative approaches to help people access welfare, health and social care in ways that meet them where they are. As social workers and nurses we visit people in their environment and give end of life support just like we would for anyone who comes into the hospice or is supported at home, ensuring they have equal access to the care and support they need.
The end of life challenges that homeless people experience are no different to what we see elsewhere; the questions they’re asking and the fears they have about death are the same as any other person. At St Christopher’s we support people every day and I’m proud that we’ve been able to partner with Evolve in Croydon to extend the care and support to people in our community regardless of their situation.”
Wherever people go, we want them to have the best support.
The partnership with Palmer House has centred around education and training. Senior Support Worker, Liam McCann said, “Staff from the hospice have helped us cut through a lot of the red tape and access support for our customers who are at the end of life. We’ve learnt how to support people to stay in the hostel if this is where they want to die. The hospice has contacts at places like Croydon University Hospital and having those links and access helps us to improve care for people.”
Kate Smith is the Team Leader at Palmer House. She reflected, “It’s been such a huge help, even in terms of assessing whether people should be using our service or going elsewhere. St Christopher’s staff have shown us what to look out for and where to direct people. Wherever people go, we want them to have the best support.”
As the short-term partnership comes to an end, UCL and St Christopher’s are exploring how it might be extended and shared with hospices and homeless housing centres nationwide to improve care for homeless people beyond south east London.
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