My working week: ‘A council tenant has bedbugs and is suicidal’ | Housing

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Monday

I lead a team that supports the council’s most vulnerable and often isolated tenants.

One of my employees received pictures of self-harm from a tenant living with multiple mental health problems. As children, they were neglected and abused, given multiple support before leaving the care system, and had no professional support for their adult lives for years.

It is difficult for employees to get these images at home. It’s also frustrating to listen to desperate cries for help when all they can do is offer phone support. My team member spends most of a day talking to the tenant about the difficult time they are going through. The renter agrees to a referral for mental health and treatment of the infected wounds.

Much of our face-to-face contact with people has decreased, but we still visit vulnerable renters when necessary and when we can safely do so. Most of them get on as best they can, but many will have difficulty and some will turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with them.

Tuesday

One of my co-workers has a serious bug infestation case that was originally supposed to be treated before lockdown. The renter was distraught when it was canceled as he had hundreds of bites all over his body that became infected. They said they had reached the point where life was no longer worth living.

The tenant has both mental health and mobility problems. He has been in abusive relationships in the past and had long-term effects on injuries sustained in an attack on a previous partner. They also have alcohol addiction problems, memory problems related to a medical diagnosis, and pain that prevents them from moving around easily. You have no family or friends to offer support.

We commission an external agency to carry out the treatment. They say it is one of the worst cases they have ever seen.

It requires chemical treatment and fumigation, during which all furniture and belongings of the tenant are removed and disposed of. You also need to be out eight hours. With a significant number of phone calls, we remotely coordinate a response between a number of teams. Within 48 hours the property will be treated and the tenant will be safely in a local B&B with new furniture, linens and groceries being delivered for return.

Wednesday

Team meeting on Skype. I discuss everyone’s wellbeing and get a sense of mounting frustration. My employees are used to reacting every day and working intensively on supporting tenants. You now had to find different ways to provide this service.

After the meeting, I will receive notes and updates on domestic violence survivors in the city. I review them carefully and distribute them to the staff who handle these cases.

The number of tenants seeking assistance due to domestic violence has increased. Referrals to the complex needs team doubled from an average of nine per month to 18 in March, with the increase for April still above normal. My team currently supports around 80 households.

Thursday

The past three days at home have been hectic with my wife going to work, but today I have the opportunity to read emails, talk to people, and then teach at home.

Friday

I’ll take stock of the week. Isolation is difficult at best, but for those who are already alone and vulnerable, the pandemic has made the situation worse. People who have never had to rely on food banks or any form of community support should turn to them now. Those who previously dealt with their mental health are now struggling.

Some details have been changed

  • In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted at 116 123 or by email at jo@samaritans.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis relief service is Lifeline 13 11 14. Additional international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

If you’d like to contribute to our My Work Week series about your public service job, please email sarah.johnson@theguardian.com