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Symon - a GMHF story

Some of the details in this case study maybe upsetting for some people so please read with caution.

For 44-year-old Symon, relocating to the UK from Poland didn’t turn out to be the dream move he’d hoped for. After the breakdown of his marriage, Symon left his homeland to come and work in Manchester. He was keen to make a fresh start and forge a better life for himself.

Things were going well until 2017 when Symon lost his job. He struggled to find other work and, because of his status, he couldn’t claim benefits.

With no money, Symon soon became homeless and started living on the streets. It was a frightening place, but more so for someone whose first language wasn’t English.

After two years of rough sleeping, Symon turned to alcohol and cheap drugs to get him through the day. His mental wellbeing wasn’t good and he had physical health problems.

Fortunately, help came along in the shape of Manchester’s Booth Centre. The centre offers support to people affected by homelessness.

Staff working there helped Symon obtain ‘settled status’ which meant he could claim benefits and open a bank account. He moved into temporary accommodation and began to do some volunteering for the centre. Life was beginning to feel a bit more normal again.

It was at this point that the team at Greater Manchester Housing First (GMHF) began working with Symon. He was keen to get a permanent home and start rebuilding his life.

His GMHF support worker, Steve McKeown, recalls: “When I first met Symon we talked about what he needed to get off the streets for good. He said that he found dealing with too much at once overwhelming, so we took one step at a time. First, he needed a place to live and we managed to find a property in an area he liked.”

Symon moved into his new home in January 2020, just two days after viewing it. The place was unfurnished so Steve stepped in to help. He managed to secure grants from the Church Homeless Trust and the Glasspool Charity Trust to buy a fridge and washing machine. While some furniture was bought through Symon’s personalisation fund.

Steve also helped to set up utility services at the property, made sure that Symon’s Universal Credit payments were up to date and accompanied him on appointments with his Universal Credit coach.

During the first Covid-19 lockdown, Steve did regular doorstep visits and arranged for Symon to receive food as part of the council’s community response service.

To begin with, Symon complied with the stay at home rule. But as lockdown continued, he began to feel more and more isolated and started using substances and meeting friends in the city centre. One night, Symon got into a fight involving the police while he was drunk. He was later charged with the assault of three police officers and got a 12-month prison sentence.

Steve kept in touch with Symon while he was in prison and made sure the housing element of his Universal Credit was still being paid so he could keep his property. At one point, Symon faced the threat of deportation after his prison release. But Steve liaised with the foreign national co-ordinator at the prison, provided the necessary paperwork, and Symon was allowed to stay in the UK.

Towards the end of his sentence, Symon witnessed the attempted suicide of his cellmate, and this had a big impact on him. Concerned about his wellbeing, Steve made sure that Symon got support in prison and regular welfare checks.

Following his release, Symon returned to his home and is now hoping to get his life back on track with continued support from Steve.

“I’m now encouraging Symon to deal with his physical and mental health issues,” says Steve. “He told me that he suffers from depression and anxiety. He’s also witnessed a terrifying scene in prison that’s still affecting him.

“To get a job and move on with his life, he’ll need support from professionals. Now that Symon’s settled in his home and has access to financial support, that’s what we’ll be focusing on now.”

If you, or anyone you know are affected by any of the topics mentioned above, please call The Samaritans on 116 123.


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