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News from Simon Community Scotland

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. 

Get Connected 100

The first ever Simon Community Scotland Podcast!

We are delighted to launch the Simon Community Scotland podcast with an amazing episode all about our life changing Get Connected 100 project. This episode has everything we hope to share with you in future podcasts – expert voices of the people we support on a daily basis, the people that support them from within the team and the many partners we work with. I hope the podcast will help people understand more about our work, the challenges faced by people experiencing or at risk of homelessness and I hope that it will help to change perceptions.”
Lorraine McGrath, CEO

We’ll be sharing news and stories from our services and discussing the key issues surrounding homelessness in future episodes. 

You can listen on Spotify: CLICK HERE.

Or via https://anchor.fm/simoncommunityscotland

Get Connected 100

Get Connected 100 – Life Changing Results

Connecting 100 People Experiencing Homelessness to the Digital World

Click here to read the full Get Connected 100 Report.

Simon Community Scotland’s Get Digital Scotland Programme has been delivering the Get Connected 100 project with our Get Digital Partners throughout Scotland. Starting in March 2021, with funding from the Scottish Government, we provided 100 people experiencing homelessness with:

  • A digital device
  • Unlimited connectivity
  • Support from a trained Digital Champion  
  • A learning framework of digital skills
Device Data Support Framework Get Digital 100

What happened?

We have seen overwhelmingly positive impact and profound life changing outcomes for the people participating in this project.

Participants have been using their devices to increase their quality of life in so many different ways. People were able to connect with friends and family, reach support networks, stay up to date with the latest news, access government services, manage personal finances (including their benefits), access online entertainment and content to improve their mental health and wellbeing.

Participant in Get Connected 100

Life changing stats

The evidence gathered from staff and participant surveys show that the project has delivered astounding results:

What participants said:

  • 96% improved quality of life
  • 91% increased their use of digital tools
  • 92% place more value on connecting to the internet
  • 94% will continue to use digital
  • 99% found Digital Champion support helpful

What digital champions said:

  • 85% of participants increased engagement in support
  • 100% of participants lives were positively affected

Reflections

Absolutely buzzing! I am young and enjoy socialising and this now allows me to enjoy all the things I have missed for a long time. I feel more connected to other people and to the world as a whole.” 
Supported person in Fife
The best thing about this project?… Everything”
Supported person in Aberdeen
Participant in Get Connected 100
There have been so many positives – people having better contact with their family/friends, being able to access things they enjoy such as TV shows and movies or games, being able to access recovery meetings and groups, accessing apps for exercise and meditation purposes.” 
Digital Champion in Glasgow.
It’s been great seeing service users developing digital skills from the framework – being more engaged with services, family, friends and more careful with budgeting their money.” 
Digital Champion in Aberdeen

10 Life Changing Impacts

We conducted extensive interviews with people involved in the project and found 10 life changing impacts that came up over and over again:

Life changing impacts
  1. Increasing life opportunities 
  2. Strengthening dignity and respect
  3. Enabling connection with friends and family and other support networks
  4. Accessing services and support
  5. Promoting mental health and wellbeing
  6. Enabling autonomy and independence
  7. Giving freedom and peace of mind
  8. Supporting recovery – a digital approach to harm reduction
  9. Stimulating education, learning and self development
  10. Changing perceptions and challenging stigma

Read more about these 10 life changing impacts in the full Get Connected 100 report.

Digital Inclusion is a Pathway to Inclusion in Other Critical Life Areas

When people can access the digital world, they are able to access other inclusion agendas such as social inclusion, health inclusion, financial inclusion, democratic inclusion, educational inclusion, cultural inclusion and inclusion in public services. This project doesn’t just include people in ‘digital’, it includes people in many other critical life areas. When people face multiple exclusions, ‘Digital’ is a pathway back into society and is an essential part of the solution to recovery from homelessness.

Exclusion vs Inclusion

What’s Next?

We are currently exploring ways to expand this project to help more people ‘Get Connected’, recover from homelessness and thrive.

A word from Shona Robison, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government:

“I am delighted the Scottish Government provided £40,000 to fund this project. It is ensuring 100 people experiencing homelessness get connected to the digital world. The pandemic has shown us that access to digital equipment, data and skills is a basic necessity and not a luxury which is why the Scottish Government is focusing on digital inclusion. The project has highlighted the importance of digital inclusion as a key way of supporting people to recover from homelessness and achieve life changing outcomes.

This has been made possible due the commitment of the Simon Community, their Get Digital Partners and of course the people participating and I want to thank everyone involved.”

Thank You

Get Connected 100 was all made possible by contributions from an incredible team of people and organisations working together in partnership. We’d like to thank the participants in the project, our amazing digital champions, Simon Community Scotland services, our Get Digital Partners (Seascape [Ayrshire], CATH and Turning point Scotland [Perth], Aberdeen Cyrenians [Aberdeen], Frontline Fife [Fife]), our friends at Mhor Collective and the Scottish Government.

Click here to read the full Get Connected 100 Report.

Get Connected 100

Life changing project launched: Get Connected 100

Get Digital Scotland, Simon Community Scotland’s digital inclusion programme, is proud to announce the launch of Get Connected 100! This is a Scotland-wide project giving 100 people experiencing homelessness access to the digital world. 

Digital access is a critical factor in recovery from homelessness. Simon Community Scotland has been leading the way in digital inclusion for people who have experience of homelessness. Through our Get Digital Scotland programme we provide training, resources, support and access to the digital world.

What’s new?

Our Get Connected 100 project will connect and support 100 people to get online. Each participant will receive a free digital device and unlimited connectivity for 12 months. In addition to free digital technology, frontline workers at Simon Community and in our partner organisations are trained as digital champions to provide person centred support based around a digital skills learning framework. The project will give people instant, easy access at all times, right in their pocket, and support to build skills and confidence to get online. 

Why is this needed? 

Research from the University of West of Scotland shows us that people who experience homelessness are among the most digitally excluded groups in our society. This is a severe disadvantage in life which has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Due to COVID-19 we rely even more heavily on digital for many daily activities: socialising with friends, managing finances and finding reliable information, engaging with health services, getting the latest news and accessing entertainment. Digital has never been so critical to our lives.

Who will get access?

Get Connected 100 is being delivered by Simon Community Scotland services to people in Glasgow, Edinburgh and North Lanarkshire and alongside our Get Digital Partners throughout the rest of Scotland; CATH and Turning Point Scotland in Perth, Aberdeen Cyrenians in Aberdeen, Seascape in Ayrshire and Frontline in Fife.

Scottish Government backing 

The project is being funded by the Scottish Government. Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said: “I am delighted to fund this project to support 100 people experiencing homelessness get connected to the digital world. The pandemic has shown us that access to digital equipment, data and skills is a basic necessity and not a luxury. The funding will provide free digital devices, connectivity for 12 months and training in digital skills, as part of our £100 million winter support package to help people cope with additional financial pressures of winter and COVID-19.”

Building on our experience: Making a powerful difference

In May 2020, Simon Community Scotland funded a ‘Get Connected Pilot’ in Edinburgh to develop and test this approach. We wanted to make sure people facing isolation during lockdown could get support and be linked with loved ones and professional services.

The results for the people who were part of the pilot were life changing. 100% of participants said that getting a connected device and support though this pilot positively affected their lives. People were able to apply for jobs, find accommodation, connect with friends and family, learn languages, access benefits, manage finances and much more. Read more about the pilot here.

https://www.getdigitalscotland.org/news/get-connected-our-digital-access-pilot-delivers-amazing-results/

Our pilot demonstrated that when people have ownership of a digital device, unlimited connectivity and support from our digital champions, it opens up a whole world of opportunities! 

We’ve seen what a difference this approach makes and are excited to support 100 more people – from across Scotland – to access the benefits of the digital world. 


Get Digital Scotland will be publishing a report on the impact of Get Connected 100 – watch this space!

For more information about Get Digital Scotland, visit: www.getdigitalscotland.org or follow us on Twitter: @GetDigitalScot.