Student goes the extra mile and helps homeless man get back on his feet

Date 11.12.2019

A local man who had been homeless for several years is now rehoused and on the road to getting his life back together, thanks to a social work student.

‘Tom’ had been homeless for more than 10 years, sleeping in a night shelter and living on the streets by the day and occasionally using Northampton’s Hope Centre day service.

Disillusioned by the intricacies of the benefits system, ‘Tom’ had all but given up on engaging with statutory services. As a result, he had no money to live on and could not be considered for rehousing as he had no means to pay rent.

Nancy Tsvara is in the final year of her Master’s in Social Work at the University and as part of her studies had a work placement at Hope Centre.

Working alongside other Hope Centre staff Nancy was asked to work closely with ‘Tom’ and give him more directed, one-on-one help to re-engage him and claim the benefits he was entitled to.

Thanks in part to her efforts, ‘Tom’ has now been rehoused and assigned a support worker to provide further assistance.

Reflecting on her time at Hope, Nancy said: “The centre does brilliant things for vulnerable people in Northampton but when I first met ‘Tom’, he was a bit down and not motivated at all.

“He lacked trust in social workers and saw me as just another professional in a long list of people attempting to help him. But we had great rapport straight away and this gave me the first means to really get to grips with what sort of help ‘Tom’ needed.

“We agreed that he needed a more hands-on advocate, someone who would always try and go the extra distance for him, visiting the local job centre or bank with him, literally walking the same steps he would walk on his journey to reconnect with services.

“He seemed to really appreciate this approach, the trust developed between us and I’m really happy to say ‘Tom’ is now in a much better place.”

For her part in supporting ‘Tom’, Nancy received a commendation from the local multi-disciplinary allocations team, which Hope Centre is a part of.

Robin Burgess, CEO of Hope Centre, commented: “Whilst she was on placement at Hope Nancy carried out a range of excellent, life-changing work with people experiencing problems of homelessness and poverty. ‘Tom’ was widely known to have been living rough in Northampton for several years – but without significantly engaging with any services – and finally broke this pattern and was supported by Nancy to secure a bank account and receive benefits to which he was entitled.

“This was a major achievement. ‘Tom’ had no faith in official bodies or charities and lived an almost completely invisible life, with almost no participation in society. For the first time in years, through building his trust and confidence, Nancy was able to establish a rapport and, through advocacy for ‘Tom’, secure for him what was his.”

Nancy concluded about her role in helping Tom: “I certainly didn’t operate in isolation. The whole team at Hope Centre were involved in one way or another in helping ‘Tom’ and I also worked closely with Northampton Borough Council’s homelessness outreach team, who were always of great help.  ‘Tom’ showed a lot of resilience to obstacles along the way and what was quite exciting was to see his transformation at being able to take control.

“Working at Hope Centre really got me to understand what homelessness is. Sometimes when people talk about it, we have perceptions of what it is to be without somewhere permanent to live. But to actually work alongside people who are homeless, to talk with them and to walk a little while in their shoes has really changed me as a person and I hope to build onto this experience as I go into my final placement and future practise.”

Find out more about the work of Hope Centre Northampton.

Find out more about the University’s Social Work (MA) degree.