Homelessness in Norbiton 2017
Angel Levick, Jill Preston (CREst) and Mike D’Souza (One Norbiton)
Preliminary 2017 true story
Mike, 37, is a softly-spoken, very likeable man who is now one of the many homeless living on the streets of Kingston. He has lost contact with his family and and feels understandably bitter that his two young daughters have started calling another man “Daddy.” He suffers from periodic bouts of emotional instability and personality change all complicated by controlled alcoholism.
Just before Christmas, as the temperature fell below zero, Mike, together with the other homeless, became eligible for statutory night shelter from KCAH. However, in the morning after this, when it was still zero degrees, he and his friends had to be turned out onto the streets again.
Perhaps, due to this stress, Mike became acutely anxious and this triggered his irritable personality disorder and he started falling out with his friends. It was while Cambridge Estate’s local community charity, CREst, was giving him a hot meal that this got worse and he eventually collapsed in despair in the Loo. Phone calls were made to all available local homeless services but none of them could provide him with any Day care. So he had to leave with his equally stressed friends back onto the freezing streets.
Then, while looking for warm shelter he fell over and broke his arm thus adding severe physical pain to all his other problems. At last the local services came to his aid and an ambulance took him to our massively overburdened A&E. where X-rays confirmed he had a fractured humerus. But out of necessity he was just given a sling and and a few painkillers and had to be discharged back into the cold to recover under the bridge where he had been living. See below
By now, not surprisingly, he had become so deeply depressed that he was actively suicidal and shortly after had to be admitted urgently to the, equally overcrowded, Springfield Hospital under section.
Our two local community groups, One Norbiton and CREst, were powerless observers of the unhappy saga above and only able to provide Mike with emotional support, warm clothing and groundsheets. What happened to him is unfortunately the norm and clearly could prove fatal. Therefore, we are presenting the following a survey of all the homeless encountered by us in Norbiton during 2017 in the hope that sharing this information may improve things for Mike and his friends before next winter.
The Background to this study
In 2015, we, our Ward Councilors and other voluntary and statutory agencies began meeting under the Chairmanship of RBK’s Neville Rainford to try to evolve a better way of helping a small group of homeless Street Drinkers who had been moved out of the centre of Kingston by the police and were causing a nuisance in Norbiton. Rather than just trying to move them on again, we wanted to explore alternatives to look after them in Norbiton. Finance was obtained by our Ward Councilors with all-party support in the Council and an interesting survey was done on classifying them as well providing supervised work for them to construct a memorial garden for children in the Cemetery.
Then in Spring 2016 a small addiction recovery group called BOB (Build on Belief) was failing to attract much support and one of us (Angel Levick), who had been homeless herself, tried inviting her friends to come for a regular hot meal each Thursday lunchtime. The word got out and quite quickly this event expanded. Knowing our local Community group CREst was already running a Mental Health Drop-in Group on Tuesdays Angel approached us for support.
Her group, became known as “Angel’s Group”, before being renamed and receiving regular funding from the WDP addiction service. Our two community groups were invited to sit on the steering committee for a number of months until it achieved its present independence.
Unexpectedly, RBK Housing changed their policy over the free use of community halls and they issued Angel with an invoice for advanced quarterly charge of £450. Fortunately, One Norbiton was in a position to donate their own free hours for six months to enable them to keep going until this problem was resolved. The idea of community groups collaborating with support Groups and RBK to improve the lives of the homeless seemed wholly appropriate. The maintenance of recovery from addiction and assisting the homeless to reintegrate with their community is proving an interesting model, and one especially suited to One Norbiton’s localism mission of improving the quality of life throughout Norbiton.
What happened next?
This luncheon service for the street homeless then prospered and by Spring 2017 CREst’s Tuesday Mental Health drop-in service was expanded to include a similar service for the street homeless. This provided another day in the week when a hot meal was available. Throughout 2017, data on all those attending has been collected and this account has been prepared by MD’S by analyzing the signing-in books together with detailed questionnaires completed by a random 24% of the attendees who agreed to assist in upgrading a free self-help iPhone App for Addiction called I-bet-me.com. q.v.
However, before this model can be viewed as wholly successful, we should await to see if it can genuinely help the reintegration of the homeless with our local community. After this it will be important to see if similar models can operate elsewhere.
What is being provided?
Free Food: Sandwiches etc. to take away and/or Hot food to eat in. Some food is purchased and cooked by the local support group funded by WDP the rest is purchased by CREst (our local community group with Charity status). Sainsbury’s Suri Basin and Prêt a Manger (transported by Des Kay of Save the World) provide free donations to CREst and we have had some private donations. We also are able to issue Food Bank vouchers. The donated food is distributed to the most needy and the rest is shared with the other group and the Everyday Church.
Music. On request courtesy of Spotify
Haircutting. Thanks to Jules Doig
Games: Scrabble, jigsaws and Pool.
Warm Weather equipment: Clothing; Tents, ground sheets etc. Thanks to Genuine Solutions
Advice: Informal first aid, Foot care. Finance and Benefits
Limited Work: e.g. as Researchers
Mobile Phone: charging and internet connection
Where and when are services currently being offered?
Locally; In RBK’s Piper and Queen Mary’s Community Halls on Tuesday and Thursday lunchtimes.
Attendance rates in 2017
The signing-in books showed that weekly attendance has generally been about 70. (monthly figures vary between 120 and 321). In all, 2463 hot meals were provided in the halls (and recently one of us (Angel) has been going out to serve some people hot food on the street at night).
How many individuals attended during 2017 and who were they?
A total of 345 attended on at least one occasion during this calendar year. There were 243 men and 102 women. Ages ranged between 25 and 62yrs They were multinational but mainly British. There was a large group of Poles but we also had Irish, Italian, Latvian, Hungarian, Japanese, Russian, North African, West African, Iranian and Spanish visitors.
18 of the attendees were helpers coming from WDP, Wellbeing, One Norbiton, CREst, The Joel Project, Local Councilors Speer KCAH Everyday Church.
Detailed Analysis of the random quarter of our attendees who helped with research
A random 82 (24%) of these individual attenders completed one or more research forms permitting much more detailed analysis. This revealed that 48 (59%) stated they were NFA/ homeless 5 (11.6% were female)
Using this figure, the current best estimate of the numbers currently street homeless i.e. sofa-surfing or sleeping rough in Norbiton
is about 200 (59% of 327)
N.B. This differed considerably from the 16 suggested as the official figure, however, Homelessness is a complex and dynamic problem and we asked people to classify themselves as either “always,” “often”,” sometimes” or “never” homeless. Of those who attended saying they were Not now homeless 24 had a KT post code and 3 a TW post code.
Quality of life of the homeless compared with the other Kingston citizens
Surprisingly 13 (27%) of our 48 stated clearly that they were “Content” to remain Homeless.
However, the overall Quality of life of the Homeless was as bad as could be expected. Of those who ticked our Smiley faces scale when first seen 83% 60/72 scored 5 or less with 36% 26/72 scoring 1 = as unhappy as possible. This contrasted sharply with the rest of Kingston where 83% had happiness scores of 60% or more on the same smiley scale and none recorded themselves as feeling as unhappy as possible
Addiction and Homelessness
Because Addiction is known to be a major contributor to Homelessness, we offered attendees the opportunity to do research work to assist us in developing “i-bet-me.com” our new mobile phone App that offers support to addicts to stabilize or quit by awarding credit (CareCreds) for any actions they take to help themselves, their families, their friends and/or their community.
Not unexpectedly our analysis revealed that 44/48 91.6 % had some form of addiction
Alcoholism was the commonest problem and 32/48 66.5% had this
Opiate addiction was next in 21/48 43.8%
Then Cocaine addiction in 17/48 35.6%
Soft drugs/ Benzo habits affected 7/48 16.5%
However, behavior problems like gambling only affected 4/48 8.3%
13/48 27% suffered from Multidrug abuse and Chaotic lifestyles
Of interest, analysis of the data of those who completed our CareCreds forms on more than one occasion (i.e. Repeat attenders), did show some benefit simply from attending and doing this;
52.3% recorded becoming happier after attending (Face scores up by two intervals)
Biggest improver rose 40%
61 % were Healthier (CareCreds score up) Biggest improver rose 36%
46% Reduced their spending on their bad habits. On average daily spending on addiction was £46.70 on entry but subsequently dropped to £29.30 a day.
What other problems did the Homeless have?
A wide range of physical and mental Health problems were encountered: including:
Pregnancy, Deep vein thromboses, Infected groins, Depression, Anxiety, Hypomanic attacks, Asperger’s syndrome, Dental abscesses, Abrasions, fractures and Sprains etc.
There were real advantages in those at risk of relapse being monitored by people they knew so that i addiction services could be involved early whenever necessary.
The Costs of this Model
The use of volunteers makes this approach very attractive from a cost point of view. The importance of the local Authority providing a free venue cannot be overemphasized. The amount of money currently being spent on providing 70 meals a week is £55 (£ 2750 p.a.) a fraction of what is being spent on employee-based services.
Homelessness is frequently making National news and here in Kingston, the Council is getting involved with two new initiatives; the first to support a team trying to prevent homelessness occurring and the second to set up a CBS or Community Benefit Society to create more access to housing for the 576 applicants on their Registers. Whatever actions ensue it is essential that they have all-party and community support.
However, the model that is being constructed is focused on the better care of those currently coping with street homelessness in Norbiton. Our database has been obtained because of the collaboration of many volunteers. The active involvement of people who themselves have experienced addiction and homelessness has been the key to both the initiation and continuance of this service. Initial fears were that such an initiative might fail because some of our attendees might be so drunk or high that they would make the meetings unsustainable. However, as the months passed by we were struck by how much personal warmth and camaraderie exists on the street. Sadly, and unexpectedly, it has been the nervousness of the different bureaucracies and middle managers that has proved the biggest threat to the survival of this model. This was first seen in 2016, when they instituted unaffordable charges for using the Halls. And now in 2018 they have made another proposal that threatens the free use of the Halls by our two Community groups.
Our interim analyses have confirmed that Homelessness is a complex, dynamic problem and consequent upon a series of individual, often tragic, life events. We have got to know over one in three of the attendees personally, and some have gone in and out of homelessness during the last 21 months. Over 90% of those we saw were suffering from addiction a condition that is still quite resistant to treatment with many relapsing after expensive detoxes.
Our current purely clinical understanding is that addiction is most likely due to an epigenetic disorder of the regulation of the brain hormones that control pleasure and motivation, such as Dopamine. (If interested in more detailed science about how epigenetic mechanisms may affect mental health click here)”
However, although it is clearly unfair to blame people for having acquired an affliction that damages their desire to change, it is possible for sufferers to exercise some responsibility for improving their health and some of our homeless increased their happiness and reduced their spend on addiction simply by filling in questionnaires making them reflect on how well they are caring for themselves and others. This has encouraged us to continue this research and to take it to the next stage of incentivizing addicts to earn CareCreds. We believe that this whole approach has shown great promise on many different levels and should be continued and tried elsewhere. However, Society is learning that criminalizing addiction is not only ignorant but expensive and counterproductive. Unfortunately medicalizing the problem is often not much better particularly now our NHS is overburdened. The community approach that this model is piloting seems a useful addition or alternative and using it we might be at least able to bring some relief to sufferers like Mike.
SUMMARY OF FINDINGS
• The model of getting those in Recovery from addiction to work with local community Groups to assist the Homeless and seems to work.
• The biggest barrier we encountered was in persuading middle managers to be courageous enough not to block things.
• Our best estimate is that there are currently about 200 homeless living in or visiting Norbiton. Over 90% have serious addictions. 10% are female and their ages range from 24 to 64. They are Multicultural but mainly British. Although 27% claimed that they were content to remain homeless, the remaining 73% are much unhappier that other Kingstonians. They had a lot of physical and mental problems that make street dwelling especially difficult.
• Indeed 27% have life-threatening chaotic lifestyles and need more help.
• Our luncheons should be continued and the threat to remove our free hall facilities be removed
• The complex problem of providing some winter day shelter should be explored by a consortium of our statutory and voluntary agencies.
• A Community Pantry should be set up run by volunteers to share food donations with the homeless and needy on the CRE in association with the Food Bank
• More initiatives are taken to find work for the homeless and a football team for them is started.
• The value of Incentivizing changed behavior should be explored.
• We hope to do future analyses of the effect of this model on the cost of local Health and Crime services.