Zoe* is in her 40s and had a long history of rough sleeping in doorways, alleys and graveyards around the city. She had spent a long time in a violent and abusive relationship and had long been a concern to services in Edinburgh. When we met Zoe she was regularly using heroin, and she is also suspected to have a learning disability.
Because Zoe had a number of different issues (homelessness, substance misuse, learning disability and a victim of abuse), this combination of support needs excluded her from provision in single issue services. That is to say, her disadvantages could not be addressed by a housing service only, for example. This served as a further exclusion for Zoe. Furthermore, services had struggled to engage with Zoe as her partner wouldn’t let her spend time talking to people when he was not there.
2 years ago, Zoe and her partner split up. Her ex-partner formed a new relationship and the couple were both violent and abusive towards Zoe when they saw her. This caused her to withdraw further from support agencies as she was afraid of coming into contact with her ex-partner.
Zoe was referred to our Inclusive Case Coordinator, Julie*, by a substance misuse professional in the NHS. We realised that Zoe had difficulty in forming and sustaining relationships and had had mixed experiences of being cared for in the past. When people have mixed or inconsistent experiences of care giving in their past, it can be quite overwhelming to be offered support and some foundational work may be required.
We offered Zoe a relationship based form of support that sought only to build a connection with her worker, Julie. The support offer was flexible and tolerant – meaning that there would be no consequences for missing appointments or, for example, being intoxicated when Julie met her. We wanted to help Zoe form a trusted relationship with Julie that might enable her to make better use of offers of support in the future.
Gradually, Zoe started to engage with Julie’s support and we supported her to access a supported accommodation project. She has sustained this accommodation for 7 weeks at time of writing. This is a huge achievement for Zoe and has dramatically reduced the risk of harm she encounters. In addition, we have supported her to buy new clothing to help restore her sense of self-worth and confidence.
Although Zoe now has a roof over her head we continue to support her, as we understand the benefit of the relationship she has built with Julie as well as the importance of supporting people through transitions in their life, such as the move into accommodation from a long time of street based living.
For 50 years Cyrenians have journeyed with thousands of people like Zoe in tough realities, helping them transform their own lives for themselves, but there is still much to do. Please click Donate to support our continued work in this, our 50th year.
*We have changed names to preserve anonymity