Leigh Andrews has worked in the homelessness sector for 20 years and is particularly interested in how communication affects health and housing. Leigh is in her final year of a Speech and Language Therapy degree at City, University of London; her dissertation focuses on the communication needs of rough sleepers. Leigh founded Change Communication in 2015 to raise awareness of brain injury in people affected by homelessness. Here, Leigh speaks about here work.
Why it matters and how to help
The City of Westminster is known for its palaces, cultural offerings and beautiful parks. When you work on the frontline in homelessness you also know it for the number of people sleeping rough. There are many reasons why this is the case, some historical, some geographical, some structural, and like frontline workers across the UK, we are keen to learn and develop innovative new ideas that will help end rough sleeping.
Change Communication has been working with Westminster City Council and homelessness organisations to raise awareness of Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) amongst the homeless populations we work with. Some of you may have attended the training we delivered as part of the Homelessness and Brain Injury Project funded by the GLA Rough Sleeping Innovation Fund. The Project ran for 12 months and during that time we found ABI is a factor both in causing and maintaining street homelessness and that some of our systems, communication and environments within the homelessness sector are exacerbating the problem. Seeing client behaviour through the lens of ABI provided many a lightbulb moment in training sessions. Staff developed a new understanding of what they could achieve with some adaptations, different thinking and a bit of (considered) risk taking.
One of the most important issues to come out of the Project was the level of interest and understanding that people who have experience of homelessness had around ABI. All the service users I worked with were keen to know more about an issue that was far from unheard of in their circles. ‘Burt’, my model brain, was a source of curiosity and prompted excellent questions at these meetings.
There are now a range of resources that can help frontline staff where they suspect ABI may be a factor in a service user’s life. Below I provide links to some of them; they are all free to use and documents can be downloaded and shared – we want to get the word out!
• If you are a Westminster based service I have written the Brain Injury Toolkit for Westminster City Council and St Mungo’s which can be found here.
• If you are outside of the ‘tri-borough’ area in west London, Homeless Link have an updated version of the Good Practice Guidance for Frontline Workers here.
• Headway UK, the brain injury association, have a Helpline (0808 800 2244) that can be used by anyone affected by brain injury. Their website has lots of information, booklets and videos to help.
• Change Communication, supported by Westminster City Council, is providing free training and support clinics on around ABI for Westminster homelessness services staff in Spring 2019. We will get the dates out to you as soon as they are confirmed.
If you would like to find out more about Change Communication you can contact me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Twitter @ChgComm