"In this role, being a nurse means that I have an opportunity to make a difference to people who may otherwise not get the treatment they need."
Erin Patten manages the Mental Health Homeless Team.
Coming from New Zealand as a nurse with experience of working in a National Health Service, Erin knew she wanted to carry on working in the public sector.
After working in A&E in Worthing and establishing the Mental Health Liaison Team, Erin moved on to manage the Mental Health Homeless Team for Sussex Partnership.
This is a multi disciplinary team made up of 8 staff from Brighton and Hove City Council, Brighton Housing Trust and Sussex Partnership. The team have worked together for a long time and are committed to supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our community to access appropriate mental healthcare.
“We are fortunate in Brighton and Hove as there are many great services supporting rough sleepers and people in temporary or emergency accommodation. We work alongside organisations such First Base Day Centre, Antifreeze and other church run support services.
“The Mental Health Homeless team is set up specifically to support people with their mental health. This means looking at the person as a whole; our support offer is holistic and can be very varied. Our primary aim is to effectively assess and treat a person’s mental health issues but we could also be helping someone register with a GP, to source a warm coat or some breakfast, apply for benefits or going with them to buy a kettle or some pots to help them cook for themselves if they are in emergency accommodation. We are in the sad position where there are waiting lists for foodbanks so we help to plug that gap.
“98% of the people my team work with are in emergency accommodation. We do sometimes outreach to rough sleepers but more commonly we are meeting people and assessing their mental health when they are in emergency accommodation. . For many rough sleepers anxiety and low mood are common place and the inevitable impact of their situation.
“Our role is to assess the impact this is having on them and their ability to function. We can then agree on the support they need. We also meet people in day centres or other venues of their choice. If we are trying to find a rough sleeper who has been identified as needing our service we have to be out early in the morning to catch up with them before they move on for the day. We’re a green team so we cycle or walk around in the early hours with the support of our St Mungo’s Street Outreach colleagues providing this outreach service.
“If I could share one thing with people about our clients it’s that the route by which people come to rough sleeping, and to needing our service, is varied and challenging. There is an assumption that our clients are all in their situations due to drug and alcohol misuse. This is not true. For many, a life event such as a relationship breakdown, a job loss, loss of accommodation, can all have an impact on someone’s mental health and can be a catalyst for more things to go wrong that can lead a person to crisis point.
"The Mental Health Homeless Team is the result of a three pronged approach by Brighton and Hove City Council, BHT and Sussex Partnership Trust. I am lucky to work in a Trust that recognises the need for this team. In many other areas, stand-alone mental health homeless teams have been absorbed back into larger generic mental health teams. For me, the best part of the job is seeing the difference our interventions can have. Recently we worked with a female rough sleeper who was very unwell when we first met her. Over the space of 11 months she was eventually able to accept treatment for long standing mental health issues which has led to independent social functioning and her being housed . Due to the nature of the people we work with and, occasionally, their previous experience of mental health support we often have to be very persistent in our approach. When this pays off and we can break through that barrier real, positive changes can be made.
“I am proud of the work the team does and our partnership working with other organisations in the city which enables us to be responsive and flexible in our approach. In this role, being a nurse means that I have an opportunity to make a difference to people who may otherwise not get the treatment they need. Our team works to make sure that people do not slip through the net, that they are not forgotten and that they are viewed as a whole person.’