Empathy, care and kindness for vulnerable women - Salvation Army Women's Lifehouse - 13/09/2018
In many services and supported accommodation providers I have visited, women, their stories and experiences are conspicuous by their absence. The Salvation Army’s women only accommodation was, therefore, a must visit for me, as I wanted to speak to women experiencing homelessness in the city and hear from them directly.
Lincoln Court offers supported accommodation to 11 women for a period of 6-9 months, providing a high level of support within a therapeutic environment, and a goal of supporting the residents to experience real transformation in their lives. Alongside support with ongoing issues the residents have, they also benefit from sessions in life skills, art, pottery, creative writing, stained glass, nail painting, cookery, and whatever else they would like to try within reason.
Typically, residents of Lincoln Court have experienced significantly traumatic events, such as controlling relationships, substance misuse or mental health issues, or they may have learning difficulties, or be seeking asylum in the UK; a real mixed bag of reasons for referral and are all supported by a small team who are on site 24 hours a day.
Lincoln Court was newly renovated before being taken on by The Salvation Army, and it feels calm and welcoming from the moment you step inside, with residents chatting to staff in the informal open plan office area, which flows to the communal spaces and private flats. The residency has a fabulous outdoor area, with herb gardens, seating and mosaic wall tiles under construction to add some extra style, all worked on by the residents themselves. When I arrived one resident was proudly planting some illuminated outdoor lights in the flower beds which she had bought herself to make the garden that extra bit special.
I visited in late April, and the staff were organising an afternoon tea to celebrate National Tea Day, busily laying out cakes, sandwiches and drinks for everyone to enjoy together, and calling residents down to join in. Over mouthfuls of delicious cakes, some of the residents told me their stories.
One lady said, “here they treat you with empathy, care and kindness”. She explained that she’d been a long time drug addict, had experienced the loss of a child, and trauma throughout her life including rape. She had ended up in Sheffield for rehab but had slipped and found herself homeless and placed in Lincoln Court. She explained how the team at Lincoln Court look at her needs as a whole, rather than focussing in on her drug use and punishing her for that, as had happened elsewhere.
Since arriving at Lincoln Court she said, “I’ve got stability and routine in my life, I’m getting out of bed every day which is a massive thing for me, and I’m getting involved in activities and accessing support and counselling to help me work through what has happened to me. I love it here!”
One resident who had become homeless after a family breakdown said, “we are just like a big family. We can go and have a moan to each other, then we just make a cup of tea and get on with it”. Another resident had left an abusive relationship with a controlling partner and been placed at Lincoln Court. The team were helping her look at her options for moving on in the future, and she spoke in glowing terms about the support she had received in the few months she had been there.
An ex-resident called in for a visit and there were big hugs all round from everyone who knew her. She’d come to ask for some help with letters about her housing that she’d received since she’d left Lincoln Court, and told me how she had recently moved in to her own flat after 7 months of being supported. She had originally been made homeless after fleeing domestic abuse from her partner at the age of 18 and credits the support received at Lincoln Court with “rescuing” her life and helping her to move on, “they are amazing here, I love them, and they are still looking out for me now”.
As I was preparing to leave, and plans were being made for a karaoke evening later in the week, the residents were discussing how they wished they could stay at Lincoln Court forever, and “be a lifer”. One staff member said, “but why would you want to, when you can be much more out there on your own?” From just my short time spent with the team at Lincoln Court, I know that they will do everything they possibly can to support their residents to get out there and achieve success on their own terms.
The mutual respect which exists between staff and residents was brilliant to see, and it is clear that their therapeutic and holistic approach to supporting residents is helping them to turn their lives around in hugely positive ways.
Alison Riggott, SheffGives