As a student nurse on clinical placement, I observed a service user disclose to an admitting nurse that he was homeless. He had become unwell as a result of excessive alcohol intake. During his hospital stay the service user repeatedly asked for help with housing, however no referrals or advice seeking calls were made to the Local Housing Authority or Voluntary sector. The service user’s medical needs were met during his hospital stay however he was unfortunately discharged to the streets as staff deemed him medically fit for discharge. This made me extremely sad and so I decided to explore the discharge process for homeless service users. The evidence in the literature identified that discharge to the streets is common and often due to a lack of nursing knowledge on the discharge process for this group which helped me to understand why staff may have made this decision.
As secretary of the Bangor University Student Chapter I’ve been involved in quality improvement projects and this knowledge helped me to begin to think of ways in which services for the homeless could be improved. I began to consider areas for improvement and found that health promotion could be a method of raising awareness of
homelessness whilst improving attitudes towards this vulnerable group. I have since undertaken health promotion activities at a local health centre by designing and displaying a homeless health poster board to raise awareness and educate the staff on homelessness. I am an avid Twitter user and decided to use social media as a platform for sharing evidence, journals, news and updates on my project. This has proved to be beneficial in raising the profile for my project and connecting with other professionals undertaking work to improve outcomes for the homeless.
I have a keen interest in research and wanted to gain knowledge on homelessness that was inclusive of the views of the homeless individuals themselves to ensure my project had a strong evidence base. I approached a local homeless drop in centre with the idea of running art sessions for their homeless service users to provide a therapeutic service and gain knowledge to support my project. The managers of the centre were massively supportive and excited by my project and were keen to allow me to undertake this work. I now run weekly art therapy sessions to encourage service users to express themselves creatively and share their life experiences and stories during the sessions. I am using the art sessions as a method for data collection to find out their experiences as patients, and I’m learning a wealth of knowledge which I plan to use to improve the health services for homeless individuals. This project has taken off and has recently been funded by Betsi Cadwaladr Health board who are helping me to develop and use the knowledge I gain for quality improvement initiatives.
I could never have imagined how much the incident during my placement could have influenced me and my quality improvement journey. The art sessions I run have taught me so much about
homelessness and I am able to engage with the group that I wish so badly to help. A small idea which came about in my first year of nursing has now developed into a much bigger project where I feel I am making a difference to services for the homeless. I feel empowered and proud by how far I have come and excited for where this project will take me. I am hopeful for a brighter future and better health outcomes for this vulnerable group who are in desperate need of help.
Follow my project Health4Homeless on Twitter: @HHMatters