February 27th, 2010 · 1 Comment
This blog will detail my final two sessions at Bishopbridge House, which are the culmination of my internship. On February eighth, I went out with two CAPS team members (Simon and Tracey) through the streets of Norwich at night (from 9:30 to midnight) after spending a bit of time at the shelter making beans and toast for the residents. The CAPS members often follow some sort of route because they know generally where a rough sleeper might seek shelter, but they also receive tips from the City Council if they become aware of a particular case. They also check on people over long periods of time who do not wish to stay at the hostel for whatever reason.
One woman in particular has been sleeping rough in the same location for many months, but simply doesn’t want to stay at Bishopbridge House even though she’s quite elderly and, of course, wintry weather can be harsh. CAPS is aware that she wants no assistance, but still checks up on her whenever they’re out to see whether she needs anything. I was impressed that they had built up any sort of trust with a woman who seemed to deny any help from outsiders at all. Simon mentioned that, especially in her case, they try to build a solid rapport so that if she ever were to decide she needed help she would know who to ask or where to go.
We also visited the soup run, which is run near the Forum by the Salvation Army. Literally every night of the year (including holidays, inclimate weather, etc.) is spent under a little awning with soup, tea, and sandwiches for anyone who needs the aid. The food is donated from the Pret-A-Manger across the street. Anything they haven’t sold by the end of the day is given to this cause. To my understanding, in the United States this wouldn’t be allowed because food establishments cannot give away leftovers for fear of a lawsuit due to illness, allergies, or other problems. I mentioned this to Simon and Tracey, and we speculated that it might be less of an issue because Pret makes their food fresh every day, so there’s less threat of spoilage. This is also less of a law-suit culture, and in my opinion, it’s far better that the excess food be put to good use.
After the soup run, we walked through the park, the bus station, and along many back roads. Simon seemed to know which bushes to check and where rough sleepers would be most likely to stay, and it definitely gave me a new perspective on the city. As I walk through now during my daily life, I often note places I saw people taking shelter (or where people had previously) and my outlook has been changed entirely.
Hours Logged: 4
Total Hours: 13
My final visit to Bishopbridge House took place on February 15 from 8am until noon, and I shadowed Mark and Claire, two senior staff members. This seemed to be one of the quieter shifts, if there is such a thing at the hostel. My first task was to do “wellness checks.” Every morning and night, a member of staff goes to every room of the hostel, knocks, and enters to make sure that the resident is there, healthy, and safe. They also do a quick scan of the room to make sure it’s clean, there is no drug paraphernalia or alcohol, and that there is no food lying about. It was interesting to see how people keep their rooms, as well as the widely varying degree of domesticity these people seemed to have. While some of the residents had rooms that looked similar to my own (clean, organized, decorated), some were VERY unkempt and it was clear that they weren’t accustomed to living in and caring for their own space.
Since this is a long-term hostel, residents can and often do stay for extended periods of time. (Of course, the organization does everything it can to make sure people are in and out to other accommodations as soon as possible to make room for other rough sleepers). This means that those who stay there have a responsibility to check in every so often. Generally, if someone hasn’t been seen for a few wellness checks, the hostel tries to locate the person’s whereabouts. Thus, I was assigned to check on a man who hadn’t been seen in three days and, after being told what to say, I called the police department to inquire after him. They obviously cannot give any specific details, but they can say whether or not they have seen or arrested a person. The hostel then is able to get in touch and act as necessary from there on.
After, one of the men I had seen many times before who seemed pleasant and healthy came to the front desk convulsing and sick. He hadn’t had alcohol in a few days and was suffering from withdrawal symptoms: he could barely keep water down, left every few minutes to vomit, and looked absolutely miserable. The hostel encouraged him to go to a clinic because they were afraid his body would go into shock. It took him a while to be convinced, but he did eventually go. Later in the shift, we found out that he left before seeing the doctor. Apparently, this has been an ongoing problem for him and he’s afraid of treatment even though the withdrawal has been so terrible for him. I found this to be particularly saddening because I had never seen such strong withdrawal symptoms up close. As the shelter really has no control over the problem, there is not much to be done about his refusal to address the issue.
My last experience at Bishopbridge was to go with a man moving into another group home in a different area of Norwich. In this type of accommodation, residents are essentially on their own save for a visit from a staff member of St. Martin’s Housing Trust every so often. We packed up his belongings and drove him there, then moved his stuff inside a completely normal looking residence where we met his roommate. It was a nice note to end the internship on, because I was able to see firsthand how people are able to move through the system and eventually into their own homes.
Hours Logged: 4
Total Hours: 17 and complete :]
February 11th, 2010 · 3 Comments
My first actual shift at Bishopbridge House took place on Wednesday, the third of February. In order to complete my safety induction (the first task), I took a tour of the building with Leo, Bishopbridge’s main handyman. He led me through and showed me fire exits, boilers, various switches, how to work the locks, and other technical tidbits. I noticed a few sharps bins, and was told that although the hostel does not encourage drug use in the slightest, it’s silly to assume that residents of a place specializing in drug and alcohol addiction are completely clean. Instead of naively assuming that it doesn’t happen, they have the facilities to make disposal of materials as safe as possible. Leo also showed me the kitchen, where I met Val (one of the hostel’s chefs) who cooks for the residents of the Direct Access side of the hostel three times per week. We discussed the difficulties of getting residents to eat healthily and gain a sense of nutrition, since they’re often used to eating anything they can find on the streets. The hostel is very accommodating to the various tastes of its inhabitants, and Val seemed happy to oblige to nutritional requirements, allergies, or religious food practices.
Later, a senior staff member showed me the actual bedrooms residents live in, as well as their common areas. I was rather shocked to find out that they didn’t look all that different from rooms in a regular hostel. Of course, they were a bit more sparsely furnished and the motives leading people there are entirely different, but they looked as comfortable as the circumstances would allow. Residents are allowed the liberty to decorate their rooms as they desire, but safety checks are done twice a day to make sure living areas are clean and safe. The common areas are filled with couches and board games, as well as a coffee table, tv, and Wii. Sets of rooms are divided into “clusters”, with one kitchen per cluster shared by four people. Kitchens are also checked for sanitation; at the moment, the clusters are in a competition for the cleanest kitchen where the winning cluster may have a take-out dinner of their choice. (A side note: many of these kitchens were cleaner than mine at UEA. Sad.)
Throughout the tours, I was completely amazed by how much Leo and Mark knew, not only in practical terms for fixing things, but about the entire process of the shelter in general. During this shift, I became aware of how multidisciplinary working at Bishopbridge must be: the staff must have good interpersonal skills (working with the actual people who rotate in and out), organizational skills (to keep records of who is there, what they need, why they’re there, and so on), medicinal skills (in terms of drug usage, what it does, how it’s used, how to treat an overdose), and many others.
In the afternoon, I sat in on a hall meeting where residents are given the opportunity to discuss how their living situation is going, any concerns they might have, or problems that arise with other members of Bishopbridge. This was perhaps the most jarring aspect of my first shift. To be honest, I had a definitively stereotyped image of a homeless person in my head: I imagined them to be dirty, unkempt, unintelligent, and to have some distinguishable air about them to make their homelessness obvious. In actuality, many of the men I saw in this meeting were clean, well-dressed, and very “normal” looking. If I were to see them walking down the street, I would NEVER guess that they were homeless. One particularly well-groomed man (who, again, could have been a professor of mine from the way he looked) was talking about another hostel he had stayed at and how, in his time there, he saw someone get his throat slit. I was completely taken aback by how much these men had seen, and how I would have had no idea upon first glance.
Another man was upset about Bishopbridge’s policy regarding visiting the rooms of other residents (it’s forbidden for safety reasons). This man keeps his dog with him, and the man said that the dog was more of a family member to him than any person in his life. Since dogs aren’t allowed in the common rooms of the hostel, he felt obligated to stay in his room and refused to leave her alone. As a result, he felt that he was being shut out from communicating with other residents because they couldn’t visit him in the only room where his dog was permitted. He argued that he wouldn’t be able to assimilate back into the community at large if he wasn’t given the opportunity to communicate. The two staff members leading the meeting were very intent in listening to him, and I was very impressed with how much control they had both over themselves and over the meeting.
This shift, overall, was a huge eye-opener for me. I came into the internship having little or no idea how a homeless shelter was run and what homeless people are really like, and even in these few hours I feel like I’ve gained a lot of insight both in Norwich and as a worldwide problem.
Hours logged: 4
Total hours: 5
January 22nd, 2010 · 1 Comment
About the Organization
On Wednesday morning, my first meeting regarding my internship with St. Martin’s Housing Trust was a success. Supposedly located at 35 Bishopgate (near the Adam and Eve Pub, the primary schools, and the hospital), I took the 25 bus into the city center and decided to walk the rest of the way. In fact, the website of the organization misled me to its office complex, located a few blocks away from where I was meant to be. Thus, after being directed elsewhere, I made my way to Bishopbridge House at 45 William Kett Close on Gas Hill. (The Bishopbridge Housing leaflet may be found here.)
Anna Hassan, my contact for this assignment, greeted me and showed me to her office to tell me a bit about the association and discuss my plans for working with her staff. In the progression from sleeping on the streets to having permanent housing, Bishopbridge House is the opening landmark. That is to say, Bishopbridge is the first accommodation of many in the arduous process of escaping homelessness. It specializes in providing aid for people with drug problems, alcohol problems, or mental illness. Because of this (and because Bishopbridge precedes any other accommodations a person might receive), this particular group has a responsibility to link patrons with organizations dealing with addiction or other disabilities to make them more “marketable” to other groups. By introducing clients to sobriety, independence, and a sense of responsibility, these people become more likely to receive other types of aid just by beginning their journey at Bishopbridge.
The first step involves actually finding these people and letting them know that accommodations such as Bishopbridge exist. The organization has a routine series of stops to check for “rough sleepers,” and the town council also alerts them to potential people in need of help and shelter. Each morning and evening, a team embarks into Norwich to extend a hand to the homeless they find along the way (which, according to Anna’s recounts, didn’t often seem to be a particularly high number-perhaps three or four people in a session, some of which may decline access to the shelter). The winter months provide a particular challenge, though. Legislation dictates that if the weather drops below zero degrees Celsius for three nights in a row, the shelter is required to house all those desirous of lodging regardless of available space. If this occurs, Bishopbridge becomes overcrowded and understaffed, but it does keep the homeless safe from the elements for a short period of time.
To expand, issues of space do affect Bishopbridge regularly. The shelter has a very high turnover rate, meaning that the staff accepts clients, assesses their individual needs, provides an appropriate starting point to receive help, and moves them to the next step in accommodations as soon as possible. This allows the shelter to serve as many people as possible simply by getting them off the streets as quickly as possible. A free bed is a total rarity at Bishopbridge, thus proving that all space is usable and lodging is in high demand. While the teams that actually trek the streets (the CAPS) encourage Bishopbridge to take more and more clients, the staff is forced to counter this due to space, time, and resource constraints. This constant push and pull between the CAPS and the staff is one problem that Bishopbridge faces.
Staying in the house costs twenty five pounds per week (in my future research, I hope to learn where clients are expected to find this money). This charge helps cover costs of food, electricity, water, and basic maintenance of the organization itself. Regarding food, there are two halves of the building. In one, a chef cooks all meals for the clients who often speak of “moving up to the other side.” Once promoted, so to speak, they receive a bit more responsibility: the shelter returns twenty pounds of the fee for food shopping. On their first excursion, a patron and a member of staff go together to learn how to make nutritious, affordable meal choices. When their dependability is proven, clients may food shop on their own. However, they must continue to present the receipts to make sure that appropriate selections are being made each time.
At Bishopbridge, people may keep their pets. Dog training classes are available, as well as recreational lessons like computer classes (where usage of Facebook is taught to reunite clients with their families and friends) and flower pot painting.
I will be exploring each of the aforementioned facets of Bishopbridge’s mission over the course of a month. For one morning session and one night session, I will go out with CAPS to the streets of Norwich and inform the homeless of Bishopbridge, as well as encourage them to use its resources. I will also be taught how the homeless are designated to various organizations, as well as the process of moving through the system. One Monday, I will sit in on the distribution of stipends and possibly shadow a member of staff during food shopping. I hope to watch a recreational class in session, and generally see how the shelter is run while simultaneously learning about homelessness in Norwich as a general issue.
Hours Logged: 1
Total Hours: 1