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the morning diaries: a service manager for a homeless charity

When it comes to a good night’s sleep, it’s easy to take the basics – like a bed, or a roof over our heads – for granted. Here, Kayleigh, who works for homelessness charity, Centrepoint, talks us through a typical day – and what that means for the people she’s helping…

6.30am My job means working shifts – either 8am-4pm or 1pm-9pm. If I’m working the early shift, I’ll get up and put the kettle on. While my tea cools, I’ll hop in the shower. Generally, my partner is already up, otherwise, we’ll argue over who uses the bathroom first!

7am I’ll have some toast as I’m getting dressed for work. I work for the charity, Centrepoint, and the project I look after is supported accommodation for vulnerable young people. It basically means I’m managing the team of staff and the building itself, helping to make sure the young people staying there are fully supported.

7.30am Get the bus to work – it takes about half an hour to get to Barnet. The accommodation houses 24 young people in total, aged between 16-21. They are all considered vulnerable and are either homeless or facing homelessness. Some have mental health issues, learning needs or emotional wellbeing issues, and some have drugs or alcohol issues, too.

THE MORNING DIARIES: A COMMERCIAL PILOT

8am I arrive at work and do a handover with security, which means they’ll give me the keys and a brief rundown of anything that’s happened overnight (this usually takes around 15 minutes). We have eight flats in the building and room for 24 young people, which means three young people share a bathroom and kitchen area (our offices are downstairs). We work as a team of five and have a caseload of six young people each. Our aim is to give people the skills to work and live independently, eventually leaving the centre with both a job and a home.

8.15am Next, I’ll follow up on any outstanding actions – this could include maintenance issues for the building like a broken light, or maybe a young person didn’t turn their music down overnight and a neighbour complained. It’s pretty varied, but generally, I’m confirming the night went smoothly and there aren’t any issues.

8.30am Each morning, we’ll have a list of young people who need to leave early (that could be for college, an apprenticeship or a job interview). So, we’ll knock on their doors and make sure they’re awake! Generally, my colleague will have started while I’m doing the handover, so I’ll help do the second round and make sure they’re up.

8.40am Next I’ll check emails and action any queries. It could be anything from the landlord requesting info about license agreements, or social workers needing information about our young people. We take referrals at the centre (social services or any professional services can refer someone) and we’re the only supported accommodation left in Barnet (we’re seen as ‘semi-independent’ accommodation). When referrals come in, I’ll discuss them with the team or have a meeting with Barnet Homes (who manage homes on behalf of the council). Usually, we’ll offer interviews (called a ‘service assessment’) where we’ll meet with the young person to find out their situation, what their support needs are and whether we can help.

9.20am If a service assessment goes well and the young person is accepted, I’ll contact them along with the person who referred them and arranges for them to come and stay (or put them on a waiting list if there is one). Sometimes when I call, they’re happy but it can be daunting and scary, too. There’s often relief – because they’re experiencing or facing homelessness – but it’s also scary because they’re about to move in with people who they don’t know, often experiencing a very different style of living. That can be nerve-wracking.

9.35am I’ll usually drink three or four coffees a day, with two sugars to keep me going! People at work call me ‘Speedy Gonzales’ because I’m always running around and can’t stop. I often think if I had a desk job, I’d be bored. I tend to be on my feet a lot!

10am When a young person joins us, we really try to set them in properly and make them feel comfortable. The timings of arrivals can vary – we try to plan everything around young people’s commitments because they’re often in college or doing apprenticeships. We don’t want to disrupt that, so sometimes we’ll settle them in at 6pm, once they’re done. When they arrive, we’ll take them to their bedroom and introduce them to their flatmates, before giving them a cooking starter pack and some bedding. We show them around and explain how to use the facilities and what their responsibilities are (cleaning and tidying the communal areas, for example). We let them know what they can, and can’t do and encourage them to make their space feel homely, by putting up pictures etc.

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When Zinnia came to Centrepoint she had been kicked out of her foster care home, her daughter had been put up for adoption and she was struggling to cope with her mental health. Today she has flourished into a confident and capable young woman who we are all extremely proud of. Recently, she sent us this message: "I came to Centrepoint two years ago. I was a mess, but because of Centrepoint my life has changed so much. I have my dream job and a lovely flat. Centrepoint means a lot to me. To me, Centrepoint is my family. A massive thank you to my support worker Emma. I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for you. You never gave up on me when everyone else did. You made me realise good things happen. For the first time in my life I believe in myself. Thank you Emma for everything you've done – you're an amazing person." You can read Zinnia's full story here: https://centrepoint.org.uk/zinnia

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10.40am We provide a bed and furniture and generally, young people arrive with some belongings. Some don’t have much with them though so we will help sort them out with what’s needed. We’re given food donations from Sainsbury’s and some companies (like ASOS, for example) often donate clothes and toiletries, so we store those in a special supply room.

11am Next, I’ll work through my to-do list, which is often fairly long! Sometimes, I’ll meet with ex-residents who need our help sorting benefits or accessing crisis funds so they don’t become homeless again, or get evicted. We generally offer support to young people for six months once they’ve left us because that time is really crucial. Being self-sufficient is completely new to them, so we try to build a support network while they’re with us – helping them access professionals like counsellors, drug and alcohol workers, dieticians…etc. for the future.

11.45 Sometimes young people call us outside of our ‘six-month outreach support’ for help or advice, and we always try and help. It’s good to hear how they’re doing. Sometimes four or five years later they’ll call to give us an update, or to say thanks. We’ve been a big part of their journey so it’s lovely to hear from them.

12pm I generally eat lunch on site – we have a staff kitchen, and we’ll normally bring something in from home to heat up or sometimes get a takeaway. I try and eat healthily to keep my energy levels up. It can be difficult to plan your day or lunchtimes – often young people come in with an urgent need and we’re very proactive, so the service always comes first.

1pm Every three months we’ll hold a ‘case review’ with a young person, to talk about how things are going and what our next steps should be. It generally lasts an hour and it means myself and other professionals will meet with them to check they’re happy, and whether their circumstances have changed, or whether they need more support. Often, we’ll generate actions afterwards.

2pm We have a gym on site and try and encourage the young people to use it, so we’ll take it in turns to supervise the space because they can’t be left unattended. It’s a good way to have conversations and check in with residents, thanks to the informal setting.

2.20pm Sometimes incidences will occur since the young people who stay with us are usually going through a lot. Some have come from another country and their journey could have been traumatising. Others could be depressed, sometimes even experiencing suicidal thoughts. A key part of my job is looking out for those signs and working to keep their spirits up and support them.

3pm During the day, I’ll help plan evening events. We have a common room with pool and foosball tables, a piano, computers and a Smart TV – it’s a great space for young people to relax in and mingle. The flats themselves don’t have communal areas (except for the kitchens) so it’s also where we’ll put on events like FIFA, pool, pampering or movie nights. We’ll run workshops too – about anything from staying safe to cooking and budgeting sessions. It’s really important because a 16-year-old who hasn’t got a home won’t know how to cook or budget and it’s imperative they learn!

3.45pm When young people are returning from college or apprenticeships, we always try and make sure staff are on reception to say ‘hi’ when they walk in. Often nobody else has asked them ‘How was your day?’ or checked in with them that day. We’re not their family, but we try and fill those gaps in terms of emotional wellbeing – it’s the same in the morning, we’ll try and make sure somebody waves them off and says, ‘Have a good day’. These things can really help residents in terms of maintaining commitments, evolving and moving forward.

THE MORNING DIARIES: A BBC BREAKFAST PRESENTER 

3.55pm Before I go, I’ll respond to emails. Sometimes I’ll give my manager a call to talk through what’s happened that day. My team is so great that generally, we’re always talking about how we’re feeling, but it can be useful to offload on the phone to my manager, too. Over time, I’ve learned to ‘switch off’ and know that as long as I’ve handed over efficiently, that’s enough. But it can be difficult – particularly when you know important actions you’ve recommended might not come into effect immediately.

4.20pm Usually I’ll head back home for dinner with my partner. Sometimes I’ll practise Lau Gar, a form of Kung Fu to release my stress, I see it as a kind of meditation. I used to go to classes but shift work meant that was difficult. I love listening to music with my partner too, we enjoy old-school 80s, Soca, R&B and old-school garage.

7.30pm When I’m trying to unwind, I really enjoy reading and watching documentaries – we often have something on the go on Netflix, and I find myself going to bed too late because I’m engrossed.

10.30pm I need a good eight hours sleep but working different shifts can make that hard. Once every two weeks we swap shifts, so you might finish at 9pm one evening, and start at 8am the next day. There’s enough time to sleep but I struggle to go straight to bed and switch off once I get in, so that’s something I’m working on…

UNTIL 24 DECEMBER, FOR EVERY MATTRESS WE SELL, WE’LL DONATE £15 TO CENTREPOINT. FIND OUT MORE ABOUT HOW WE’RE TEAMING UP HERE.

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