"I wanted to get direct experience of working on the frontline."

West Sussex Housing Support Officer

One of the best things about the job is when an outcome I’ve been hoping for comes together.

I started work at Southdown in May 2015 as a Floating Support Officer in West Sussex. When services were remodelled to form the West Sussex Homelessness Prevention Partnership, towards the end of 2016, I put the Housing Support Officer role in acute mental health wards in hospitals as my first choice. I was really pleased when I got the role.

I’ve always had an interest in mental health as it’s always been around me. My family were very open about their own struggles and mental health was given the same importance as physical health in my household. I’ve wanted to help people struggling with their mental health from a young age.

I studied Health Psychology at Sussex University and have a Diploma in Psychotherapy from Regent’s University London. I decided not to further pursue Psychotherapy at this time as I wanted to get direct experience of working on the frontline – it’s a much steeper learning curve than being in the classroom!

I did a number of support roles. I was a care assistant in a nursing home, a support worker for a learning disability service and a healthcare assistant on a mental health hospital ward. It’s good to be able to do something that helps others, makes a difference.

When I saw the job for a Floating Support Officer (FSO) at Southdown, and read about the organisation’s holistic approach to supporting people, I thought it sounded really interesting. Housing issues and mental health are interlinked for so many people. Most of my clients whilst I was working as an FSO were dealing with mental health issues.

As my current position as a Housing Support Officer working at Langley Green Hospital is part of new initiative, I’ve had to work hard to establish the role. Initially, I walked round wards letting staff know who I am and asking for referrals. Now, I’m fully booked and have a full caseload every day. I know who everybody is and they know who I am. From the start, I’ve been made to feel welcome and part of the team.    

On a typical day, I get in at 8.30am. If I need to contact the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) on behalf of any clients, I do this first thing before they get really busy.

At 9.30am I do my rounds. The number of patients I am supporting varies all the time as patients are discharged and admitted to the ward. The time I have with patients is very short too, in many cases just a few days. This can be challenging. It means I have to prioritise my caseload depending on people’s needs and when they’re being discharged.  

The support I provide includes assessments of people’s housing options, help to identify the most realistic and appropriate housing route, support to apply for accommodation and provide evidence relating to support needs, help to complete benefit applications and address rent arrears/ debts, liaising with Councils, landlords, and family members to try to prevent homelessness, and referrals to other support services.

One of the best things about the job is when an outcome I’ve been hoping for comes together. For instance, one gentleman I was supporting was in an extremely bad place and was very close to losing his home. He had a lot of rent arrears and no income. As he was on the ward for two months, I had time to support him to claim the correct benefits, liaise with his landlord to avoid eviction and make plans to address his debts. I also referred him for further support in the community, which is now being provided by Southdown.

I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved in this role and of having shaped it to what it is today. I hope evidence of what housing support integrated into mental health wards can achieve will lead to more roles like this.       

 

We have three housing professionals who provide integrated housing support in acute mental health teams as part of our West Sussex Homelessness Prevention Service (WSHPP). The WSHPP is an integrated service that offers a dynamic way of working, greatly benefiting multi-disciplinary teams and their clients, by providing a combination of pre-tenancy support, supported accommodation and floating support as well as some new and innovative targeted services for people at risk of homelessness.