My placement at Beacon House helping people who are experiencing homelessness
9 June 2021 | Michelle Avent, Student Nurse
I recently spent 5 weeks on placement in the clinic of Beacon House. Beacon House is a Christian charity that helps people who are experiencing homelessness. There are nurses, occupational therapists, housing officers, kitchen staff and volunteers, as well as facilities such as a laundry area and showers. These are the things that stood out for me in my time at Beacon House…
I was unaware of how broad the definition of ‘homelessness’ was until I started placement at Beacon House: ‘the definition of homeless means not having a home … nowhere to stay and are living on the streets … you can be homeless even if you have a roof over your head’, (Shelter, 2021). This may include staying at a friend’s or staying in temporary accommodation such as a hostel or B&B.
During the last two years as a student nurse, the 6C’s are an important aspect of our learning. I have met some incredible nurses in the NHS, but the nurses at Beacon House are exceptional, they truly embody the 6C’s in every moment of their work. Their compassion and commitment are admirable, and the level of competence and care provided is endless. This is reflected in the clinic’s welcome pack for new service users designed by the nurses’ administrator, which includes health promotion leaflets, tampons, shower gel, tissues, and hand gel.
The clinic also focuses on other projects, such as expanding health promotion for women who have suffered FGM, to create a supportive, approachable, and trusting environment, encouraging women to get their cervical screening. This is crucial as FGM can impact a woman’s experience of cervical screenings based on emotional, physical, and cultural effects (Pinnell, I, 2018).
During the Coronavirus pandemic, people who are homeless were temporarily housed; however charities were closed, winter approached, and mobile technology became indispensable to access essential services. The nurses help highlight the difficulties people who are homeless face, such as public rest rooms closing, difficulty getting hot foot, being unable to keep up to date with the news, no mobile or computer, struggling to contact with their GP or mental health services. Crisis UK estimated that around 200,000 households were experiencing homelessness in England in December 2020.
A key feature emphasised throughout my placement was opportunistic nursing, as people who are homeless often struggle to stay in contact with support organisations. An example of opportunistic nursing was shown throughout the roll out of the Covid-19 Vaccine. If the nurses had not seen a guest for some time, they would do other health checks such as vital signs, catching up with the person, asking how they are, what they had been up to and if they needed anything. The nurses continuously consider the patient’s feelings and experiences. “Make sure that people’s physical, social and psychological needs are assessed and responded to… act in the best interest of people at all times.” (NMC, 2018) This was demonstrated and magnified by the team at Beacon House.
The nurses taught me numerous clinical skills and educated me on how to help someone with drug misuse issues and mental health issues. They explained the needle exchange programme to decrease the risk of infections, as well as ways in which to conduct myself, the art of listening and creating a safe atmosphere.
An aspect which highlighted the significance of homelessness nursing/education was that the ‘everyday’ nursing and skills we are taught cannot always be applied to this service user group. For example, if a patient were at risk of type 2 diabetes, it would be inappropriate to advise someone who is homeless to eat a healthier diet and go to the gym.
Moreover, when taught about wound care we often need a sterile environment; one of our patients had an infected leg ulcer and was unable to come to the clinic; therefore the nurse and I went to him to dress his lesion outside, which is not a naturally sterile environment and needed us to think outside the box.
I can harness this knowledge bringing it into other settings such as a ward, for example not letting someone be discharged knowing they do not have a safe place to go, or do not have the necessities to help support themselves physically, mentally and socially.
I believe an introduction to homeless health nursing for student nurses should become more widely available.
Michelle Avent, Student Nurse
Shelter (2021). What is homelessness? Shelter. Available from: https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/homelessness/what_is_homelessness. [Accessed 29 May 2021].
Pinnell, I (2018) Let’s Talk about … Smear Tests and FGM. Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. Available from: https://www.jostrust.org.uk/about-us/news-and-blog/blog/smear-tests-fgm. [Accessed 29 May 2021].
Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) (2018) The Code. NMC. Available from: https://www.nmc.org.uk/globalassets/sitedocuments/nmc-publications/nmc-code.pdf. [Accessed 29 May 2021].
The Big Issue (2021) How many people are homeless in the UK? And what can you do about it? The Big Issue. Available from: https://www.bigissue.com/latest/social-activism/how-many-people-are-homeless-in-the-uk-and-what-can-you-do-about-it/. [Accessed 29 May 2021].
Crisis UK https://www.crisis.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/more-than-200-000-households-across-england-will-be-homeless-this-christmas/ [Accessed 9 June 2021].