By Jenny Garden, Communications Manager, Bridgewater Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.
Bridgewater runs a Health Outreach and Inclusion Service which works across Wigan borough providing health assessments, referrals and support and to local homeless and vulnerable people. I caught up with the team on a freezing cold January night in Wigan Town Centre to find out more about the challenging work they do.
It’s a Wednesday night in Market place in Wigan town centre and around 15 to 20 homeless people are huddled around two tables where they can get hot drinks and food as well as essential toiletries.
The weekly initiative has been set up by local volunteers from Help the Homeless Wigan.
The Health and Outreach Team is using it as an opportunity to speak to people who are homeless about their health concerns.
“It is particularly cold tonight so people sleeping on the streets will be more at risk of serious illness or even death.
As a result, we are working with Wigan Council, who commission our service, and other partner organisations to arrange short term cold weather accommodation for any homeless person we come across.” says the team’s Community Nurse Ray Featherstone.
Outreach Team Mike Chatton, Mags Sanders and Ray Featherstone
“Our job is to reach out to people on the streets as well as those in hostels and other vulnerable situations to provide health assessments and ensure people can access the healthcare they need from us or our partners such as GPs, local hospitals and public health.”
“When you are homeless, it’s common to suffer from complex health issues such as respiratory problems, muscle and joint pains, skin infections, HIV/AIDS, pneumonia, hepatitis and other long term conditions. These illnesses may also be further exacerbated by drug, alcohol and mental health problems.”
Suddenly Ray is asked by one of the volunteers to speak to a middle aged man who has recently been diagnosed with hyperthermia at A&E.
As Ray speaks to the man, the team’s Community Link Worker Mags Sanders calls Wigan Council’s out of hours phone line and successfully arranges accommodation for him and many of the other people they speak to.
Felix, 53, who is currently sleeping rough near the town centre says:
“I think the outreach team do great work, it’s so important… Between 3am and 6am can be a desperate time if you are homeless. I really want people to realise homelessness is a situation, not a person.”
Felix with Ray
Afterwards Mags says:
“This job can be very emotionally challenging. We see people who are in immediate crisis – they could be hungry, homeless or a victim of trafficking. As a team, we always try to be compassionate, understand the person and help them the best way we can.
“We also endeavour to incorporate the principles of Wigan Council’s “The Deal “in all we do. We have a good knowledge of local services on offer in our community and we support people as much as we can to improve their general wellbeing so if for example they like football, we will try and link them in with a local football team. ”
“Despite the challenges of the job though, it is so rewarding when we see someone we’ve helped go from the lowest point in their life to a position where they are healthier and happier.”
Find out more about the work of Bridgewater’s Health and Outreach Team at www.bridgewater.nhs.uk/ashtonleighwigan/healthoutreach/.
The team can be contacted at 01942 483586 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about Help the Homeless Wigan view the dedicated page on Facebook.