My First Gate Meet: A Case Study
by Sussex Pathways Social Work Student
I set off around 6.30am on the train to Ashford to meet my new client at the gate. I had only had the opportunity to meet with Julie* via video link with a staff member the day before.
The train journey was almost 3 hours and although I was due to meet her at 9am I was delayed around 50 minutes on the train. I knew that Julie has been waiting for weeks for today and now she was waiting longer for me. The previous day, as part of my action plan I contacted the prison chaplain who is often available to support prisons on release day and asked for his phone number. I was then able to text him and advise I would be late getting there.
When I arrived I met the Chaplain and he told me that Julie had asked where I was immediately and appeared pleased that she was being met. The earlier communication had helped knowing I was on my way.
I met Julie and waited with her for her prescriptions including daily methadone for around half an hour. She was chatty and was quick to inform me this is the first time she had requested a support worker to meet her on release day. She felt she wanted to have a smoother day than what she has done previously and attend all her appointments, as opposed to using any substances and burying her head in the sand. Julie explained she feels she is too old to be street homeless and would like support to connect to the community.
There was a support worker volunteer from the Salvation army who also at the gate met and we walked together on the way back to the station to obtain warm clothes as Julie only had a thin jacket and one bag with paperwork and drawings in it. Here I was able to contact Julie's probation officer for her and explain we would not be able to make her 12pm appointment and rearrange. This communication would not have been possible without a gate meet as Julie did not have a mobile phone which would have added to her feelings of stress on the long journey home and prevented her from collecting a hat, coat and scarf.
During the train journey home Julie contacted universal credit from my work mobile. Her claim was still open however under sanction. She was able to request a hardship/advance to be processed. We then continued to discuss how I could support her with a working capability assessment and PIP application which she hasn’t been able to complete before.
The train journey back was not seamless, and we need to change due to cancellations unexpectedly. I was pleased to be with Julie as without internet access and communication with housing and probation this journey would have been a challenge for her.
On arrival in Brighton Julie seemed to know all of the street homeless people we passed and was friendly with all she met. I needed to continually risk assess and keep Julie motivated to keep moving and stay focused on her appointment times and aims for today.
We attended probation, had her papers signed and obtained her next probation date as well as a travel card to be able to get there. Julie was visually upset and her mood changed to anger when she was informed she would not have a mobile phone provided, I could see she was shutting down as she turned her body and face away in frustration. I needed to keep Julie motivated and explained we can talk about how to source her a mobile but we needed to leave and report to housing.
Julie asked me if I had a bank card. She wanted to give me cash from the £57 she was released with so I could transfer her money, or get cash out and then she could transfer the money to me. I wasn’t very sure of the goal but I did need to think quickly about how to explain this wasn’t possible. She did not see an issue and persisted. I explained that I did not have a business account and mine was personal, I then asked Julie why she thought I wouldn’t be able to do this. I explained things I could support her with regarding finances, such as contacting her bank and how to get a new ID. She said understood and didn’t mention it again.
Housing was quite stressful for Julie. We didn’t know if she would be housed until very late in the day. Julie struggled with providing links to the area without support and became quite distressed when questioned about where she lived in Brighton before going into prison. She pulled on her hair and was shutting down, saying she didn’t know she’s been homeless for years and to stop asking her questions. During that time there was another person shouting their frustrations at the housing officer and Julie which I needed to defuse as it didn’t seem out of place for the staff and no one intervened.
Following that, I turned my chair to her and asked her about any Brighton accommodation she has been placed in and any GPs she had seen. Julie was able to reel off loads, counting confidently through her fingers. I also asked where her son and grandchildren lived and she confirmed it was local and she would be having contact with them. The housing officer was able to use this information, and house Julie, however, the only available accommodation was in Eastbourne.
Julie did not consider this an option and said she would stay on the streets and then go to Eastbourne. At this point a staff member was asking people to leave, it was 5 o’clock and they were closing. I texted the housing officer and explained Julie's feelings about leaving Brighton. When he returned I explained that she had early morning prescriptions for methadone to collect regularly, mandatory meetings with her probation officer, a substance misuse service as part of her licence and universal credit. A placement in Eastbourne with only £57 for the next 5 weeks would put her at a disadvantage in successful resettlement.
The housing officer took notes and returned an hour later with accommodation in Brighton saying it had only just become available. He also set a meeting up with Julie to discuss longer-term supported accommodation as the next step, which Julie explained had never been given as an option before.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the client.