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"Sarah was one of the first referrals to the Haringey Housing First pilot; when it commenced in July 2015."

Sarah* was one of the first referrals to the Haringey Housing First pilot; when it commenced in July 2015.

Sarah, a 35-year-old female originally from Poland, had reached the upper age limit of the supported accommodation project in which she was already an over-stayer on account of her support needs: a long-standing dependency on alcohol, mental health difficulties and the eating disorder anorexia. At the time of her referral, Sarah had been the victim of an alleged rape at her supported accommodation (criminal case ongoing) and was on crutches as a result of an apparent torn ligament in her thigh, incurred while at the gym.

Housing First sourced a private-rented studio for Sarah in September 2015 and she moved in within a week of viewing it and being approved by the landlord. She voiced from the beginning of the tenancy her relief at having a place to call her own and specified the sense of safety she experienced. She ceased to use alcohol in August 2015 and has maintained her abstinence since then, engaging steadily with her keyworker at Haringey’s alcohol support service. The Christmas period proved challenging for her for reasons including loneliness, family dynamics and what she described as a process of taking stock of a life which she felt had not fulfilled her potential. Furthermore, her registration with a new GP led to deeper exploration of her thigh injury and it transpired that her hip was broken and would need to be replaced.

Housing First worked closely with her alcohol support team to manage cravings at this time, as well as accompanying her to all hospital appointments and providing assistance with transport. She got through the Christmas/New Year period, her hip replacement operation and the physical recovery process without consuming alcohol or self-harming, of which she has a history. Housing First staff have accompanied her to mindfulness/meditation sessions during her time as a client, in addition to supporting her to locate resources online to use when she is finding her emotions hard to navigate and/or her long-standing difficulties with sleep are causing her distress. During her time as a Housing First client, Sarah has also been in communication with an artist who is completing a photography project on the subject of ‘Expressing Trauma Through Art’, featuring survivors of rape and sexual assault. Sarah's involvement in the shoot, marked a significant milestone for a chronically shy and self-conscious individual.

In May 2016, Sarah requested a meeting with Housing First staff in order to state aloud for the first time the reason for her historical dependency on alcohol, her eating disorder and her mental health difficulties: she experienced feelings for a member of the same sex as a teenager and left her home country of Poland as a result of this. She explained that she was experiencing these feelings again for another female, but now felt ready to confront the feelings and move towards accepting herself and her sexuality. She is engaging with a clinical psychologist, with whom she has said she now feels comfortable to broach the subject of her sexuality. Sarah has also begun to attend social events for women who identify as lesbian and hopes to fall in ‘real love’ someday, though she says she now realises this may not be likely to happen until she can truly accept and love herself.

Now that her hip has healed, Sarah is especially looking forward to returning to one of her life’s greatest passions: caring for horses via a volunteering opportunity in a local stables.

*To protect identity, the name of the client in this case study has been changed.