On Friday last week I visited the SOS Bus, which is a medical and welfare bus specialising in providing support to vulnerable residents in Tendring. We were located, as is the case every Friday from 10am until 3pm, opposite McDonald’s in Clacton High Street. Workers on board were from agencies including Open Road, Peabody, Summit and Anglia Care Trust, and offered support to local residents who are either homeless, at risk of homeless, street drinking, or in need of assistance and support services.
With a steady flow of visitors throughout the day, the team were able to give advice and support on a wide range of issues, such as housing, addiction, health and benefits, as well as providing much needed water and shade in the 26-degree heat. Some visitors were known to the team, coming along most Fridays having built up a relationship of trust over time, whilst others were calling in for the first time, having been recommended to visit after suddenly receiving notice of eviction from their home, for example.
Phil has been visiting the bus for a while now but has also recently been given notice of eviction from his current home. He was willing to share his story with me to highlight the experiences of people who are homeless or at risk of being so.
“I’ve been on the streets for nearly five years. I moved into my current place six months ago. I’ve got surgery on my spine in a couple of weeks. I had an envelope delivered by hand, taped to my door. He’s given me two months to get out but I’m having surgery on the 26th and I don’t think they’re happy about me being on the top floor as it is. I went to see him, and I said about that, and he said, ‘it’s a Section 21, we don’t have to give an excuse.’ I went ‘but you went in my room illegally,’ and he just said, ‘can you come back later?’ I’ve just done bl**dy five years on the streets, got surgery coming up and I’ll end up back out there.”
Phil is facing a major operation and the eviction notice is adding greatly to his worries.
“I’m stressing out. I hate hospitals. I went to Ipswich the other day for the pre-op, I got on a bus at 8 o’clock and got to my appointment at twenty to ten. I’ve got the operation on the 26th of July. I’ve had it swapped, it was meant to be 7 o’clock in the morning and they said I could go in at eleven because it takes so long on the bus. I’ve got to go again on the 18th to sign a consent form and a week later get my surgery. Why couldn’t I have done that all the other day when I went for a pre-op assessment? It cost me 30-odd quid the other day.”
Often it seems that the particular circumstances of the person are overlooked.
“I don’t want my surgery getting cancelled. I’m going to be out of action for at least three months after. They asked me at the hospital where I lived and I said second floor, but they didn’t ask me if there was a lift, which there isn’t. The consultant told me to stop wearing my rucksack because of my spine, but I said, ‘it’s been on my back since I’ve been on the streets.’ I know I shouldn’t wear it, but it’s got all my paperwork. I keep all my paperwork on me because I don’t have anywhere safe to leave it.”
Recovery from any kind of medical procedure is more challenging when you are affected by homelessness.
“I’m fed up with not being able to use my arms properly and the pain in my neck and back all the time. I’ve had trouble with my back since I had surgery last year and they still said it had nothing to do with it. I had surgery on my balls last year and then I came out and just didn’t feel right and they don’t feel right. I went back to urology, and they couldn’t get me out of there quick enough and sent me to muscular-skeletal and then from then I got orthopaedic-spinal clinic. That was in February I went and saw them and I’m getting my surgery at the end of this month. It’s my birthday two weeks after that. 56 and a proper state.”
Mental health is very often adversely affected by housing issues and homelessness too.
“I have trouble with my mental health too. When I first came to Clacton, I had a proper meltdown; I was losing the plot. I don’t want to go down that route again. I’ll speak to them here (on the SOS Bus) sometimes about it. I like my own space though. That was only good thing about being on the streets: I’d be on my own when I wanted. I come and see this lot (on the SOS Bus) when I need help. They’re very nice.”
Clearly there are many challenges for people who are homeless or in insecure housing, and the situation affects their access to health, care and wellbeing services. The SOS Bus is providing an invaluable service in Tendring district to support individuals, including Phil, who have otherwise extremely limited or non-existent support networks.
If you would like to access support around any of the issues mentioned in this blog, or to get more information about the SOS Bus, give the Healthwatch Essex Information & Guidance Service a call on 0300 500 1895, email [email protected] or text/WhatsApp on 07712 395398.