Andrew’s Story Part Three: Getting help with homelessness and mental health 

Hi, my name is Andrew and I live in Oxford, England. I have been asked to write about my experience of homelessness and the process of getting out of it. This is not an academic paper so there will not be endless quotes and citations, merely, my experience and that of others I have met along the way. At the end of this post, there will be some suggested articles for further reading. I hope you find this informative and that it will encourage you to help those in need and the charities that support them.

Paperwork – sleeping bags do not have a filing system

Now began the paperwork. Every record I had was gone and I was, and now that I am settled, still good at keeping records. This in part made me feel far worse because I had failed to keep my life together. Also, I had blocked things out. Even after months of help from a consultant psychologist – I am so lucky to get such a high level of support, many never do – I still do not want to think or talk about parts of my life. Memories are buried and I do not want to go there. This adds to the issues that both sides have, be it the rough sleeper or those trying to help. It is also one of the key things to remember when supporting people with mental health. Someone who on the surface can seem calm, when faced with certain lines of questioning can react as though you have chili powder in their face.

You are often asked the same thing again and again to the point you are sick of it or can become angry. For those who have been on the street a long time, moved around or been involved with the police this just goes on and on. Throw in mental health where they always ask you to retell your story and there is another disincentive to engage. I remember a lady saying how she was not sure that she had the best therapy but could not cope with re-telling her history again and again. So accepted what was offered.

The outreach teams work hard to make things easier and fill in the gaps. Here in Oxford and I hope elsewhere, there is work going on to document in one place things that can be shared between the key partners which reduces the work for all and the repetition.

I was lucky, because of the COVID lockdown to be got into a hostel very quickly. I was doubly lucky that we each had our own rooms with a shower/toilet at what used to be the YHA. Many of the people you speak to have been in hostels where several people are bedded down in the one room. This brings problems for many. Can you be sure things will not be stolen while you go to the toilet, or are in a deep sleep? It happens. I have met people far younger and physically stronger who do not like such places and would rather be on the street.

Another advantage of the hostel was we had St Mungo’s staff there doing long shifts on a rotating basis. Plus, security people at night. It was a mixed population by which I mean there were those, like me, who wanted to keep “normal” hours and actually sleep during the night. Because of the situation with the government trying to get everyone off the street, we also had a fair number with drink and drug problems and they would often be active during the night banging and shouting. This did not help the anxiety, there were times I just wanted to leave and never come back. Oh, and here is something I never thought I would ever say, some days I was so strung out, despite the excellent support from the staff, I seriously thought of seeking drugs out to blot out the noise – not just the external noise but the hell in my head from the mental health problems. Luckily for me, it never came to it. Sometimes in trying to explain to people the extent of the mental anguish I would say that I would rather take a severe physical beating just to be away from what was happening in my head. I have met others who have used similar language.

I found the people, although sometimes they could wind me up, were fundamentally people trying to cope in difficult and sometimes, desperate circumstances. They were not bad people, although they could be, but people whose lives have been destroyed by illness. Remember for some, this is a long-term problem that can have gone on for years, even decades. One person, a lived experience volunteer in Bristol gave an excellent insight into this. After many years of trying to get the right help, her health is greatly improved and she testified on the call we were on, “For many years I just existed, now [with the help received] I am alive”. If ever there was a reason for better funding and support for mental health here it is. Any politician reading this or their aids, here is my challenge – if you ever stand up and talk about British values consider this, if by underfunding mental teams you are putting people through the torture and anguish, they suffer for longer than necessary what sort of value is this? When you break a leg, you get a rapid response from the NHS including pain relief. When you break your head, you may get nothing effective for years.

The process of getting people off the street can be a great help. It means more focus for those trying to help. Though no guarantee they will find you when they need to. Services can come in like those working with mental health and substance abuse. The local GP surgery that specialises in helping the homeless can send in nurses too. I know from talking to fellow travellers that it is not always welcome. They may not be ready to “engage”. The reasons for not engaging can be very varied. Here are some. Difficulty expressing themselves, Problems focusing. Problems with timekeeping and then being blamed because they “fail to turn up”. Trust too is often lacking. That was true in my case with mental health because I had had an intervention from a specialist team in the early days. I had received an excellent and detailed period of assessment but despite that assessment being that I needed long term therapy for long term trauma issues the outcome was negative – “We do not have the budget to help you at this time”. The support team disappeared and I was written off. Or so it felt. Well so much for a health service “free at the point of need”. I will never blame the staff but it hurts that a situation that could have been retrieved was failed and took me from a position of likely recovery to lose so much time and life. It has cost the country too in lost tax, paying out Universal Credit and paying for accommodation. So, I do understand this loss of trust many feel. A support worker can genuinely try to bring help to a homeless person only for both to be let down by things like budgets or a whole stack of technical issues such as “you do not qualify because …”


On top of everything else, it is probably true to say that every homeless person and including those on the road back to recovery by being housed in hostels, supported housing etc, will have suffered trauma. In my case, you have seen the impact of being lost from a recoverable situation. Forgive my bluntness but you feel like you have been flushed down the toilet. The concept of self-esteem goes down the sewer along the way.

Think right now of the cost-of-living crisis. There will be those who have struggled and strived to the best of their ability and everything is still lost. Their home, all they have worked and saved for – especially true of small business owners, their families break up. Some will end up on the street, perhaps after months of “sofa-surfing”. They will have been broken and worn down by the experience.

A note from Expert Link

Expert Link network member, Andrew, has given permission to share his name and story in five parts, one each day across the week to mark #WorldHomelessDay and #WorldMentalHealthDay. Sign up to the mailing list to get the links to the full 5 part series:

  • My journey with mental health and homelessness
  • Sleeping on benches
  • Getting help with homelessness and mental health
  • Mental health and homelessness – How can government and services help?
  • Involving Lived Experience to end homelessness
Suggested Reading

The Kerslake Commission on Homelessness and Rough Sleeping – Progress Report September 2022

CRISIS – All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness

St Mungos – Stop The Scandal [Focus is on Mental Health & Rough Sleeping]

St Mungos – Article In Support of the Kerslake Report

St Mungos – Mental Health and Wellbeing Plan Consultation – St Mungo’s response [Short and very readable response to Government Consultation]

Please Note: At Expert Link, we strive to amplify the voices of those within our communities. The views represented in this blog represent the individual author independently and not Expert Link as a whole.