‘Being Homeless’ by Eric Harper


Getting onto the Streets

In March 1996, ‘Just Ask’ Counselling and Advice Service carried out a needs analysis amongst homeless individuals living both in cold weather shelters and in hostels within the London area.

Following on from that research, ‘Just Ask’ set up a pilot counselling service at a number of cold weather shelters. A cold weather shelter is a building homeless people live in, over the cold weather period. What was discovered was a need to carry on the work with clients with whom some form of relationship had been established. That is, there had been a demand for a continuation of the work that had begun in a cold weather shelter, and this meant doing ‘therapy on the streets.’

Needless to say this involved a great deal of anxiety on the part of the practitioners as no organisation in Britain had attempted work of this nature before. This was a pioneering challenge for all, and all we had to draw upon was our experience in the cold weather shelter. The pilot project taught us that we needed to adjust our psychoanalytic thinking and skills within this new context.

The work took place outside one of London’s Underground stations. I was to lead a team of therapists and advise workers at this sight. This area was frequented by a particular group of homeless people who varied in number from day to day. I wish to describe some of my experiences in making contact with this group and in particular with Jane, with whom I would eventually engage in a piece of work.