Category Archives: Inspiring Stories

Inspiring Stories from Simon Community Scotland

Michael at the Access Hub

Michael’s Story: More dignity. More hope.

The people we support do amazing things every day to overcome trauma and any difficulties they face. Our approach is to ‘stick by people’ – making sure each person gets the support they need to overcome barriers and can create a good life for themselves. 

One of our services – The Access Hub in Glasgow – provides a welcoming and safe place for people to pop in. Staff are trained to listen and support people to resolve difficulties related to homelessness – which often includes linking people to colleagues in other agencies and helping to sort out practical life-stuff. 

Michael is someone who has used our support for many years. He has experienced some really difficult life situations, including the tragic death of his partner. Our Street Team initially connected with Michael when he was living on the streets. Recently, we have been delighted to support Michael as he moved into his own permanent home. 

Michael still visits our Access Hub for support with different day-to-day needs:

“There’s people who will help you with everything you need help with. There are different spaces to go to in The Hub for a chat.

“The support has been phenomenal. The staff have been so supportive. I come in all the time. I praise this place.”

A common barrier for many people who have experienced homelessness, relates to banking. To open a bank account typically requires identification papers, proof of address and other documents. Yet, someone who has been facing crisis situations and been sleeping rough, might not have this material. 

Not having a bank account impacts people in multiple ways. It makes getting benefit payments a very convoluted process and means people have to use cash all the time. It makes it impossible to do payments online for shopping, entertainment or anything else. It makes it harder to deal with the practicalities of getting a job and being paid. And, on a really important human level, it can leave people feeling ‘on the edge’ and not really ‘part of society’.

Our pilot partnership with TSB bank is helping to make things easier for the people we support. Michael is the second person to open a TSB bank account through our pilot partnership with TSB.

Michael explains in more detail:

“Not getting a bank account was one of my main blockers. I didn’t have the right ID, the right this, the right that. The team came with me to TSB to set things up.”

“Before my bank account, I would get a PIP code to my phone and I would have to take that to the Co-op to get my benefit money.”

“I feel safer for having a bank account. I feel more secure. When I get a job, I’d like to be a bricklayer or a plumber, it will be a huge help.”

Speaking more about the Hub, Michael added:

“I praise this place. Honestly, see if this wasn’t here, I don’t know where I’d be. I’d probably be dead, that’s the truth.”

This is why we do what we do. We want people to feel more secure and confident. We want things to be easier for people who have experienced trauma. We want people to have what they need to shape the life that they want. 

Every day we see how amazing people are. We are proud to be able to provide company, expertise and support as people face and overcome difficult situations. 

We are grateful to all working in partnership with us – including our colleagues at TSB – to help make this possible. 

Together, we can end homlessness.

Housing First in Edinburgh

Housing First – a simple statement that seems almost too obvious to be a solution for people who are experiencing homelessness. In the recent past, however, for some people with multiple complex needs, they were often required to demonstrate they were “ready” for housing – by abstaining from alcohol or drugs for instance – before being “awarded” a tenancy. 

Housing First challenges this approach – a home is not a reward, it is a right.

In first establishing a stable foundation in settled accommodation, individuals with multiple complex needs – problem substance use, trauma, mental health challenges – can then be assisted in accessing the support they need from a place of security – their home. 

And that is where Streetwork at Simon Community Scotland come in. Having been part of a consortium delivering Housing First support in Edinburgh since 2018, we’re now expanding our service from 1st October in conjunction with our partners Bethany Christian Trust, Hillcrest Futures and Turning Point Scotland. 

Our team work with people for as long as they are needed; bringing empathy and understanding, advocacy and assistance, and opportunities for community connection to those who may have faced multiple barriers throughout their lives. Our approach is tailored to the needs of each person we support; flexing and developing as they do, though always trauma informed with a harm reduction mindset.

One of our Support Workers describes Housing First as “we stay by you, no matter how bad things might get“, with this focus on strong relationships resulting in real success: 

A client who was previously considered “unaccommodatable” due to a range of complex support needs is now approaching his first year in a tenancy – his first in 23 years!

We’re excited to be continuing our Housing First journey in Edinburgh; research has shown that this approach results in improved outcomes for people with higher tenancy sustainment, improved health outcomes and fewer interactions with the criminal justice system. 

We’re always looking for people who share our vision and values to join our team. If this sounds like you, please check out: https://www.simonscotland.org/join-us/join-our-staff-team/

Written by Lesley Henderson

My Harm Reduction Story

By Hannah Boyle

Last week I took post as Women’s Harm Reduction Coordinator. I started with Simon Community Scotland just prior to the pandemic as a Support Worker in women’s services. As my first job in social care, I have had to learn on the job and through experience, which has given me the privileged position of embracing harm reduction within my practice. In March 2020, due to the shutdown of the majority of necessary interventions, we were fearful that crisis centres and Injecting Equipment Provision services may be forced to close, putting our women in a higher state of risk than they already are. We believe in bringing services directly to people wherever possible, and so began to operate Injecting Equipment Provision within our women’s projects. 

As Claire Longmuir (Policy and Practice Lead for Harm Reduction) came into post, the culture towards drug use began to shift. The people we support face some of the most oppression in society today, and regularly endure stigma and discrimination which prevents the right support being accessed and effectively, lives being saved. 

By beginning to move towards a harm reduction model in the services, the therapeutic relationships we have with the people we support began to blossom in a whole new direction. Suddenly, the women were not afraid to be open and honest about their drug use for fear of punitive action being taken against them. We heard stories of women being “chucked out” of services or threats of police action being taken against them. We heard of how women who inject drugs were forced to use on the streets, susceptible to all forms of exploitation, bacteria and increased levels of vulnerability. We heard of how women would use drugs in accommodation services but rush for fear of staff interrupting and be more at risk of overdose. We heard of women using drugs in bathrooms, behind closed doors, aware that the risk of death was severe if they were to overdose – but feeling it was their only option.

Hearing these stories and having the privilege to be trusted with the treatment that women who use drugs have faced for far too long, it moved me to do more to challenge stigma against drug use and promote an empowering culture of tolerance and acceptance. 

At Simon Community Scotland, our values are what drive forward our practice. Our staff teams are passionate, empathetic individuals who put people first and ensure their voices are at the centre of everything we do. By embracing the harm reduction model, we accept the whole parts of a person, not separating them from their drug use and deeming them “too hard to engage” or “too difficult to support”. We believe in human rights and everyone being treated with warmth and regard, dignity and respect. 

Our staff have the privilege of building therapeutic, trauma-informed relationships with the people we support and empowering them to achieve the best possible outcomes. We have seen firsthand the power of these therapeutic relationships and the comfort and connection they provide to people experiencing homelessness. This is why we’re so good at what we do.

The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety – it’s connection Johann Hari

Over the last year we have been working hard to embed and build harm reduction more into our policies and practice in order to prevent drug-related harm. Through this approach, we have seen these relationships grow and the people living in our services feel more comfortable discussing and accessing support for their drug use without fear of discriminiation and punitive action being taken.

I have seen firsthand the impact of this shift within our services. The women we support feel able to be open and honest about their drug use and in turn, access support that benefits their lives. Staff are more confident identifying risks, for example concerning injecting related wounds or signs and symptoms of overdose and how to manage this. In my time spent working in women’s services, I have seen firsthand the number of fatal overdoses decline. Whether that is due to the power of these therapeutic relationships or staff being confident to manage overdose and save lives, who is to say… All I know is that what we are doing is working. 

We provide a home, a safe place to live, but we also provide life changing relationships, giving the people we support the respect they deserve, having them directly feed into policies to ensure their voice is truly at the centre of everything we do.

Not why the addiction, but why the pain? — Gabor Mate 

Within my new role, I will have the opportunity to co-produce harm reduction resources with the women using our services that will directly benefit their lives. Recently, I supported one of the women living in our services to meet with Scottish Government representatives and discuss our Digital Response to Harm Reduction and the impact it has had on her life (which you can hear Jodie speaking about in the new SCS podcast!) These are Jodie’s words:

“It gave me a wee bit of relief because I’m a recovering addict, so it’s helped me get to online meetings, it’s helped me when I’ve been struggling and I’ve been down.

I can get connected to fellowship and I’ve been able to use Zoom, Whatsapp, Facebook, even say hello to a friend online has helped my mental health. It’s helped my whole wellbeing. It’s gave me a whole new outlook. It makes me feel wanted, it makes me feel needed and that as a homeless addict, that’s all we want, is to feel wanted and feel needed in other people’s lives and this is what the digital scheme gives.”

This project has a vital part to play – not only in tackling drug-related deaths and drug-related harm, but also in challenging the stigma and discrimination people who use drugs face, specifically women. At the heart of our Digital Approach to Harm Reduction, are the voices of the women we support. This will provide them the opportunity to input directly into resources that will benefit them and in the long run, work to save lives. I am so excited for the year ahead and the wonderful things the people we support will produce. 

– Written by Hannah Boyle, Women’s Harm Reduction Co-ordinator

Talking about overdose could save a life

Overdose Awareness Day

August 31st, International Overdose Awareness Day, and a day for us to pause, remember, and act for those who have lost their life to overdose.  One thousand, three hundred and thirty nine people lost their lives to drugs in Scotland last year.  The highest in Europe, each person a unique human being, someone with family, friends and communities who loved them and sadly lost them to overdose. 

People that Simon Community Scotland work alongside often face some of the most difficult situations and circumstances.  Many people have struggled with problem alcohol and other drug use for many years, a consequence of systemic and relational failures in keeping them safe, cared for and included. Homelessness is another consequence.  More than half of the deaths of people experiencing homelessness were drug related (NRS Scotland).  Today is a day to consider what else needs to be done to support people who are at risk of overdose. We know that the answer to this is complex and far reaching, that it requires all of us to be committed to change, it requires what is seen as a radical shift in thinking and approach.  It requires putting people at the centre of their care, access to support when needed, informed choice, a range of treatments, good quality and sustained housing.  It requires radical kindness, compassion and understanding.  Addressing and dismantling stigma seen and felt across all sectors of society.  It requires all of us. 

So far this year within our services, staff have administered Naloxone over 70 times – this was close to 100 last year.  Last week alone, one of our incredible colleagues responded to an overdose in the street after being alerted by a local cafe owner, another saved someone’s life in one of our residential services, so many lives have been saved.  Yet, amongst these stories are also ones where we haven’t been there on time, where we were just too late. We have lost two people to overdose this year, the impact of these losses ripple far and wide across our staff teams and those who were the closest to them.  This year, on Overdose Awareness Day, we will be holding memorial events for the people living in our services and staff to remember and mourn those they have lost.  Not just for this year, sadly so many people have suffered so much loss, so much grief, so much pain.  We need to do more. 

Naloxone allows us to intervene in an overdose situation and save a life – we are passionate supporters of Naloxone within homelessness settings, and anywhere where people who may be at risk of overdose may be.  We see Naloxone as part of a wide range of interventions and approaches to reduce the risk of overdose, support people to feel included, cared for, loved. 

Reducing the harm is everyone’s responsibility – it needs to be if we are going to start having an impact on the amount of people lost to overdose each year.  This requires us to put relationships, compassion, dignity and rights at the centre of every interaction we have with a person who may be at risk of overdose. 

We need to stop turning people away but bring them in, stick with people, listen, learn and strive to understand.  Each person lost to overdose is a preventable death – someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, friend.  

On this Overdose Awareness Day we stand with all those who have lost a loved one to overdose, to challenge the stigma facing people who use drugs and to work for change.  Every life matters. 

Naloxone Saves Lives

First Life Saved

Written by Hannah Robertson-Newman

I am an outreach worker for the street team for Streetwork in Edinburgh, it’s part of Simon Community Scotland and my job is to try to guide rough sleepers to access support and try to find a safe place to live.

We decide to go down towards Leith, it’s a Saturday night and it’s busy with a lot of people in bars plus the Lion King is being shown at the playhouse, the crowds will probably attract more people begging. Freddy and I both stop to fix our matching waterproof jackets in a hopeful attempt to stay dry and note that we have already walked 16,000 steps today. The crowd swarming into their various destinations carries us as we begin walking towards Leith, both of us looking down to make sure we spot anyone begging.

We turn a corner and I notice that a few bodies in the crowd have stopped and that the steady stream of people was moving out the way of something, the way water flows around a boulder. Freddy and I both go over to investigate. This is when I first start to worry, it is a body laying on the ground, the spectators look panicked, someone is on the phone but nobody is touching him, nobody seems to want to get too close. It’s a young man, wearing loose clothing that is ripped and stained in places he is laying out on the dirty floor with a blanket over his legs that is soaked through, he is painfully thin and his pale face has an expression of lost oblivion. He could easily be mistaken for a pile of rubbish tossed to the side waiting for someone else to come along and clean up, there is a cup in front of him with a few coppers in. I get closer and look at his face, my stomach sinks, I know him. 

Street Team Member on Patrol

Tony, he is young, no older than 22. I had sat with him only a few days before talking about his life. He is charismatic and cheeky. Tony only knows the streets, he was raised in the protective community bubble of shared trauma. His brother begs near here and I know both of them are currently sleeping in a bin shed. We have tried to get both brothers into accommodation and into safety but they are hesitant, they do not trust the system that has let them down so much. The pull of addiction has been a constant in Tony’s life for as long as he can remember, his parents were addicts and when he was in care he began to use to escape the pain. Tony is a deep soul, he is creative and witty, he likes art and talks about the cars he would like. Tony is fearful, he does not fully believe life could get better, it has been on a downward trajectory since he can remember and though the offer for accommodation is there how does he know that it would be better? And what happens if he puts his hopes on it and trusts again then it is taken away from him? No better to stay safe in what he knows he can survive on the street, he has his brother, and he has the comforting oblivion that comes with his gear to take away the pain. 

I push past the onlookers trying to pretend that I am the confident professional I am meant to be and say I know him when people look. I get close to his face and call his name, no response. His eyes are open and glazed. I have never noticed before they are a sharp blue, I look closer, my heart beating and see the unmistakable tiny pupils of pinprick eyes that go hand in hand with opiate use. I shake his shoulder and call his name. I am praying to anyone that will listen that he will sit up, tell me to go away, tell me I’m overreacting and he is fine, anything… but nothing. My heart sinks and I look at Freddy who shares my concern, this is an overdose I am sure of it but we have both only just received our training a few weeks ago and have not yet put it into action. 

Opiate overdoses can be reversed with a drug called Naloxone, it is a clever invention that has saved so many lives of those most in pain. I got my training a few weeks ago, it was fun and relaxed and the trainer explained how it affects the opiate in the brain and can buy time for an ambulance to arrive. We enjoyed chatting about risk factors while injecting the naloxone into oranges and practising CPR. It felt very controlled and calm and a mile away from the reality I was in now sitting, with the rain pouring down while a crowd watch me. 

I look up and the police have arrived, four of them drawn over by the crowd probably. I am hopeful for a second, the police are here! They are who you expect to save the day in an emergency! But then realisation dawns on me, Police aren’t trained on Naloxone, I am, Police don’t carry Naloxone, but I do, it’s going to be up to me. I have a brief conversation with a police officer and as soon as I mention I work for Streetwork and I am Naloxone trained he seems relieved himself. Police seem to act without the need for much discussion, apparently, through years of experience, they automatically begin controlling the crowd of onlookers and clearing space for me to work. One officer informs me that the ambulance is on the way but it’s a Saturday night, it’s busy, I nod my head with realisation overdoses aren’t the biggest priority.

My attention goes back to Tony, he looks younger than 22 he could easily pass for a high school kid, I guess in some ways with his limited experiences in life this is true. I put my hand under his head. I want to protect him from the cold concrete. Freddy and I work to lay him flat, he is soaked through and boney. I am also soggy now that I am on the ground with him, I am shaking with a mixture of cold and adrenaline. I listen to his breathing, it is shallow but it is there, relief for the first time, this means I don’t need to do CPR at this moment. I go to my bag and pull out the yellow box of the Naloxone kit and peel off the plastic wrapper. I crack the casing open in the way I was taught only a few weeks ago and it springs open, so seamless. Inside there are two blue needles, a syringe with a stopper on the top and an instruction leaflet, everything you need to save a life. I pick up one needle encased in a plastic wrapper and the barrel. I have trained in this action, attaching the needle to the barrel but my hands are shaking and I keep fumbling with the stopper, Freddy takes it off me and doses it. I go to Tony and I call his name again. I start telling him it’s going to be okay. I am here, I don’t know if he can hear me. I roll him into the recovery position on his side one hand to protect his head from the cold concrete and with one leg bent up… it looks just like how I sleep. 

Freddy hands me the needle, he has a pleading look on his face. It’s his first time seeing this as well and I can tell he wants me to take the lead. I take the needle in my hand and look at Tony, he is drooling slightly, his breath slow and raspy, I inject him in the leg with the Naloxone, one dose, just like I am trained to do. It’s a weird sensation injecting another human and I thank the designer of the Naloxone kit silently in my head for having the forethought of measuring out the different doses on the side of the syringe. I sit back. I know I need to wait for 2 to 3 minutes is all it takes for this wonder drug to do magic, I keep calling Tony’s name hoping to bring him back to me. 

There is a long heavy pause while the rain keeps coming down, a puddle has started to form right where I am sitting. Tony stirs, he lets out a long moan and I hear his breathing start to return to normal. His eyes become more focused and he looks at me, he is angry “what are you doing?” he demands. It’s not unnormal for someone to come back to reality and not be happy about it, I have just taken his high away from him and he may have been begging all day for that chance of relief. Tony doesn’t know how terrified I was seeing his lifeless pale body crumpled on the ground and just how close it seemed that his breathing would stop forever. Tony only knows he was at peace in quiet oblivion away from pain then I came along stabbed him in the leg with a sharp needle and dragged him back to the cold and rainy reality. 

That was my first time intervening with someone who overdosed, I have had a lot more experience and I may be well practised now but it still scares me, each time I came close to watching a life slip away but managed to help guide it back. I saw Tony not long after he was taken away by the ambulance crew that night. We were talking and he suddenly looked at me with a clear realisation “you Naloxoned me didn’t you? “, “Yes” I replied, waiting for him to be angry at me for taking his high away from him. “Thank you,” He said looking away “I didn’t want to die”. 

You're worth your room on this Earth.

Tony is doing well now he is in a flat with his brother, the first time they have trusted that four walls won’t be taken away from them in a long time. They are building an existence for themselves that isn’t purely encapsulating their desire to escape reality, now their reality isn’t so bad they don’t want to flee from it. To save someone from an overdose means that they have time to save themselves, and I thank everything that I was there that soggy night with my Naloxone kit when Tony needed me.

– All Simon Community Scotland on site staff, including our Street teams, are trained in the use of Naloxone.