The grim reality of sofa-surfing

Posted on: 9th February 2017

Katherine is head of therapy at Body & Soul, providing members with one-to-one counselling as well as supervising the play therapist, body psychotherapist and family therapist.

 

Body & Soul’s whole-person approach to care acknowledges that the psychological health of our members cannot be divorced from their basic physical needs, so Katherine works closely with the casework team to try to alleviate the practical barriers to mental and emotional wellbeing. Here she reflects on some of the challenges.

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Two perennial issues for our therapy and casework teams are the compounding problems of destitution and trauma – trauma in the past and destitution in the present, which makes managing the impact of trauma even more challenging. Increasingly we are finding that our members are sofa-surfing, which is a misleadingly ‘cool’ phrase for the shaming, horribly uncertain practice of calling in favours from friends until the favours (and often the friends) dry up. Members are then faced with the spectre of street homelessness. This is a terrifying prospect for anyone, but for someone who is physically and psychologically vulnerable, it is literally life-threatening.

Sofa-surfing: a grim reality for some of our members

Sofa-surfing: a grim reality

Towards the end of last year, we were faced for the first time with a situation where a member’s children were (thankfully only temporarily) taken into care because she was faced with homelessness. The fact that statutory services are acting against the legal requirements of both the Human Rights Act (the right to family life) and the Children Act (the right of children to stay with their families unless there is a clear reason why their parent/s pose a risk of harm) is symptomatic of the pressure that statutory services are currently under. When situations such as this one arise, we at Body & Soul need to be ready with an immediate and creative response. In this particular instance we were fortunate enough to house the family through the London Hosting Scheme.

Destitution is also experienced in relation to food, both for individuals and for families. Just before Christmas, the casework team and I were working with a woman who, together with her teenage son, was leaving a seriously domestically violent relationship. Her partner had controlled all the money and for many months she and her son had not had enough to eat. As well as arranging for them to be rehoused, we organised access to their local foodbank as well as giving them a modest Tesco voucher. The mother was so grateful she was moved to tears and said to me: ‘When my son sees this, he’ll say, right mum, we need broccoli, rice, all the healthy things.’

Domestic violence is a past and present issue for many of our members. Poor early attachment can lead to the low self-esteem that can result in choosing an abusive partner. This can be compounded by a sense, and a reality, of limited choices in the present. As one member put it, ‘I might as well stay with one abusive man than end up selling myself on the street’. Assisting members to see a way, both emotionally and practically, to exit what are often extremely abusive and controlling relationships takes time, patience, and an appreciation of and respect for the member’s world view. This is made more complex when there are children involved and in these cases we have to take a far more active and directive role because of the harm to children in witnessing domestic abuse.

More and more we are seeing members who, for practical or psychological reasons, cannot access or struggle to access generic services. More and more we are seeing members whose needs are too complex for statutory or generic services to contain. More and more we are seeing members with histories of complex trauma and presentations of PTSD alongside socioeconomic destitution. This picture reinforces the need for the flexible, individualised, whole-person model of care that Body & Soul provides – all under one roof.



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