Vital Role of Homeless Health Nurse on Homeless Awareness Week

8th December 2023

“The help the Homelessness Nurse gave me was just so important. I couldn’t have got through without them.” The thoughts of Matthew who is now a volunteer with the Simon Community in Lisburn. He knows what it is like to be homeless. When he moved to Belfast from Dublin he struggled to find accommodation and sought refuge with the Simon Community. There, he met and was helped by the South Eastern Trust’s Homeless Health Nurse.

Matthew now has a home and a full time job. Having turned his life around he is now reaching out to those who may need his help and advice.

Matthew added: “I don’t think I probably would have come out the other side of it if they hadn’t been there.”

Lisa Ewart is the Trust’s Homeless Health Nurse. These nurses have been employed across each of the health and social care Trusts. Lisa explains how she links in with local hostels to help men, women and families to access healthcare. Their need can range from accessing the dentist, registering with a GP or getting help with contraception, or healthcare appointments. Lisa says, “our service users come to the drop in clinics which I run every week and they come with a range of issues and we work to support them into health care. Healthcare for the service user who is homeless is not a priority, they can have mental health issues, addiction issues and are dealing with adverse childhood experiences and have a lot of trauma.”

Through her role Lisa is working with almost 100 service users within the South Eastern Trust. “Homelessness is faced all year round, this is not just a Christmas issue, it is around the corner and it’s in every community. It is not just a young person’s issue either. It’s women, children and families. Half of the UK population say they are just one pay check away from becoming homeless and with the cost of living crisis it’s an even bigger priority.”

With Lisa’s role, it can present its own challenges but it is one “that I love.” “You are advocating for people who have no voice and you are trying to get them back into services that are vital.”

“Everyday is different but as they say when you love your job, you will never work a day in your life. It’s a privilege working with the service users. At the end of the day you go home and be grateful for everything that you have. There is no feeling like it when you know that service users have turned it around, that they have sustained a tenancy and have got a job, that they have go back into society. For me there is no better way to finish off your week, your month.”

During Homelessness Awareness Week there’s concern that homelessness, whether through increased poverty within households, job losses and mental health issues is continuing to rise.

The South Eastern Trust’s Consultant Public Health Nurse Pauline Wilson explained that homelessness is “not a choice”.

“Homelessness results from a number of factors that interplay such as poverty, unemployment, lack of affordable housing and often mental health and substance misuse. It affects individuals of all ages, although young people and those with mental health challenges are more vulnerable. It also impacts on women and families. Our role at this time is to help raise awareness of the issue of homelessness across Northern Ireland.

“Being homeless can have a negative impact on a person’s health and wellbeing. They can experience difficulty accessing services and often face prejudice and discrimination. It is extremely rewarding to hear when people move on from the hostel to their own home.”