This is the experience that I have had with a friend of mine, who turned up yesterday on my doorstep having seen her once only briefly over the previous couple of years. It spans two days of phone calls, police involvement, hospital attendances and homeless units. I have her full permission to write this, although I am withholding her name.
Yesterday afternoon, I got a knock on my door. An old friend, whom I was aware had been going through a difficult period, but had only seen once in the last few years, turned up on my doorstep. She was clearly upset and I invited her in and made coffee. Even before I had finished making the drinks, she was telling me of her plans to kill herself. We sat down and she told me about lots of things that were troubling her, some historic, some ongoing and some immediate – all quite horrific. It turned out that she had nowhere to live and had been rescued from the Clyde River a few days previously after she had jumped in after a suicide attempt and had then been discharged from hospital, returning to a precarious housing situation with acquaintances who had offered to put her up. Estranged from her family, her backup plan should her housing situation become acute was to return to a turbulent relationship – all of which had now fallen through. Even more concerning was the detailed plans that she was telling me of how she was going to kill herself.
Woah…..was I out my depth or what!
I told her she was really worrying me and would it be alright if I called someone about her. She agreed. The only place I could think of for suicide was the Samaritans, it didn’t really seem like the right place, but it I figured that they could give some advice at least. The woman I spoke to was very nice, said that it was really a councilling service (this situation was waaaaay beyond telephone councilling) my friend agreed to speak to them and when she handed the phone back the woman said that this wasnt really the right service for her and it would be best to contact the emergency social work department. I phoned the social work department. The woman I spoke to was very nice, explained that as she didnt have a social worker , this wasn’t really the right service for her, but that she clearly need social work services, and as she was suicidal to contact NHS24. I phoned NHS24. After speaking with both me and my friend she told me that she was needed immediate assessment, and that a Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) would call back in an hour to do an initial assessment of her mental health and that she had agreed that she would stay at mine for the next hour until the call came through.
Over the course of the next 20 minutes she became more agitated. Her talk of suicide was ongoing. She kept asking my permission to leave, and I kept reiterating that I wasn’t her keeper and she was free to leave at any time, but that I thought that it was a bad idea and that we should make scones instead. Half way through mixing the scones she decided she was going.
When the CPN phoned back about half an hour later, I explained that she had already left. As she had lost her phone in the Clyde she was unreachable. He advised me to phone the police. I explained that I was not prepared to, but that if he had a duty to inform them then that was his call. I asked what I should do if she returned and he advised telephoning back. She returned about an hour later, still agitated and speaking of suicide but wanting to speak to a CPN. Just as I was put through to an NHS24 nurse, the police arrived at the door. The nurse said that a call had been put in to the police and they would now ensure her safety.
I have my issues with Strathclyde Police, but on this occasion, they couldn’t have been more helpful. Relaxed and chatty, they calmed her down considerably and persuaded her to attend Accident and Emergency and gave us both a lift down. After a short wait the triage nurse put her straight through to a cubicle and a doctor saw her very quickly, but it was 90 minutes before an emergency CPN could see her. As we waited, she was becoming more and more agitated, again talking of suicide and that she wanted to leave, despite having nowhere to go. A lack of scone mix and Madonna meant that there was little to distract her from thinking unhappy thoughts and my attempts at cheerfulness were wearing thin. One escape attempt was thwarted by a cigarette and some chat with other smokers outside, a second by a kindly doctor bringing her tea and a biscuit, but on the third attempt, when an unfortunately helpful auxilliary opened a sidedoor for her, she disappeared. A search proved futile and I made my way home. The police phoned to ask if I knew where she had gone, and I let them know of the places that she had been talking of. A few hours later the hospital phoned to let me know that the police had found her, and that she was now safe and seeing someone from the mental health team. Considerably reassured, I thought that she was now in safe hands.
The next morning, I got a call from the duty social work team, asking me if I knew where she was. A bit alarmed, I asked what had happened. They said that the last they were aware of was that she had left the hospital early the previous evening. I told them that the hospital had phoned back and that she was most probably there. On phoning the hospital to find out which ward she was in, they told me that the CPN had decided to discharge her, and that she had been given accommodation through the Hamish Allan Centre for the homeless and taken there by the police. I was somewhat surprised that they considered her well enough, but relieved that something had been sorted out.
That afternoon, she arrived again at my door. It transpired that she had slept in an interview room under a table. When she arrived with the police at the Hamish Allan Centre it transpired that they had no available accomodation and this was the best that they could offer a suicidal woman. She wasn’t able to access the room until late at night, as it was in use and had spent much of the time in the waiting room where a number of male rough sleepers who were being turned away offered to “look after her” if she left with them. I asked her where they were putting her up that night, and she told me that they were going to give her a sleeping bag if she returned to the homeless centre that evening at 7pm and that she planned on sleeping under the Kingston Bridge – one of the suicide spots that she had spoken of the previous day.
I rang the social work department. Advice on how to get longer term services was great, but that didn’t ultimately solve her problem, that she had nowhere to go *right now* and she wasn’t able to do the things that were needed to solve her problems because she had so many problems in the first place, all of which appeared seemed to be a excuse for not providing her with any services. When I asked about the statutory duty of councils to provide accommodation to people in priority need, the duty social worker told me that despite this there was no accommodation and therefore they were unable to help. Reiterating how worried I was about her, clearly a bit frazzled, he told me that he would contact the Hamish Allan Centre and see if something could be sorted out, but that the cutbacks at the council meant that only three staff were available for emergency social work support across the whole of Glasgow and they were overwhelmed. He rang back half an hour later to tell me that they had offered to again put her up in an interview room overnight and that she should go down there after 9pm.
This is a woman who has had multiple trauma, in an abusive relationship, estranged from her family, has no money, is suicidal, has an eating disorder and a drug problem and the only thing Glasgow City Council can offer is a z-bed in an interview room from 9pm in the evening until 7am the following morning. We gardened and cooked for the rest of the day and her mood lifted a little.
I gave her a lift down to the homeless unit. As we waited to be seen in the waiting room, we got chatting to a young homeless woman about the service. I met her only briefly and I dont have her permission to repeat her story, but suffice to say that it did not give me confidence in the service. The receptionist told her that there was no accommodation and she needed to leave – my impression, whether accurate or coloured by what I had been hearing – was that he didn’t like her talking about her experiences.
Within half an hour, we were seen by a worker. He explained that they were willing to put her up that night in an interview room on a z-bed. She would not be able to get into the room until midnight as it was in use, but could wait in the waiting room until then and that she was not to tell people about it, because it was illegal and that if other people knew that she was sleeping in an interview room, they too would want to do so. When I said that I didn’t think that this was suitable accommodation, he told me that the only other alternative was the street. When asked about the statutory duty to accomodate he agreed that yes, they did have a legal duty, but there was no accommodation available and this was the best that they could offer. I suggested bed and breakfast and he told me that all places in the four hotels which had a contract with Glasgow City Council were full and that a non-contracted hotel was not an option.
I asked him if he was prepared to repeat to say what he had just told us on film. He declined and told me that if I wanted to make an issue of it, this was not the place to do so – that I should go to Shelter, the media or a local councillor, but that I would need proof and that I was not allowed to film, record or take pictures inside the building, and became concerned that I was recording the conversation. I reassured him that I was not, and would not do so without his agreement but said that I would contact the people he suggested and asked if I could use his name. He said no. When I asked why not he told me that he did not want to lose his job. I didn’t press the issue, and he went on to explain how she accessed longer term services and reassured her that he would make a referral, but was unable to give any form of timescales as to when she would get proper temporary accommodation, let alone something more stable.
As we left the room, I asked here whether it would be OK for me to tell people including the media about everything that had happened this weekend. She agreed emphatically. I have a lot of reservations about posting this, it includes considerable amounts of someone else’s personal information and although I have her agreement to make this public, its still a difficult thing to do. This isn’t good enough. It is less than a year since a homeless pregnant woman was gangraped in George Square having been refused accomodation. How many tragedies does it take before Glasgow City Council respect their statutory duty to accomodate?
This really isn’t good enough.