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Published: 18 September 2023

Home is where the heart is

Hundreds of homeless people are now benefiting from essential foot and dental care thanks to funding from NHS Charities Together. We spoke with two people who are happier, healthier and have a roof over their heads, thanks to KCHFT’s Rough Sleeper Service.

At 51 years old, Tina Baggott was homeless and an alcoholic with a number of untreated health problems.

Tragically, she lost her father while homeless and after nine years of living on the streets, it was this moment she decided to stop drinking and seek help.

Now with support from the Rough Sleeper Service and help to maintain her health, Tina is determined to keep her precious home.

Tina said: “I started drinking because of a bad relationship and the fact I was homeless. The day I lost my dad, I threw a beer at a wall and that was it. I walked away from a bad situation determined to make things better.

“I like my life as it is now. It was rough on the streets and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. If it wasn’t for Claire Knight, Dr Green, Maidstone Borough Council and Maidstone Day Centre, I’d be in the drain again. I wouldn’t have this roof over my head.”

Claire Knight is a complex care outreach nurse, part of the Rough Sleeper Service, which provides treatment, support and advice for homeless people. Claire met Tina at the day centre in 2019 and worked with the team to help her get back on her feet.

Tina now has a home decorated with her personal items, including pictures of her four children and 12 grandchildren across the wall. She sleeps in her own bed with colourful rugs on the floor and a small kitchen table in the corner. The friends she’s made in the day centre have donated blankets and other items, and Tina loves a charity shop bargain.

She said: “Living on your own can be lonely but I have my phone and I can call my kids anytime and often spend time with them. I’ve made a change for them. They are my world and I love them all.”

The Rough Sleeper Service has provided treatment for homeless people in west Kent since 2019 and with the help of charitable funding from NHS Charities Together’s Community Partnership Programme, is being expanded.

Claire led the project in west Kent and is now helping to develop it to benefit the homeless in Medway and east Kent and has helped add podiatry and dental care to the service.

The first dental clinic at the Dover Outreach Centre saw 10 patients, with eight receiving treatment and one tooth removal.

Claire said: “Some patients have not seen a dentist for more than 30 years and have resorted to pulling out their own teeth. Now they are able to be seen in an environment where they feel comfortable and have the treatment they need.”

Homeless at 38-years-old, Paul Breeze has received physical, mental and dental support through the Rough Sleeper Project.

Paul said: “I had been sleeping rough for around three months before meeting Claire. I slept wherever I could around Maidstone and together with physical ill-health, it made my anxiety worse. I had a cyst on my face which everyone would stare at, needed dental treatment and was really vulnerable. It was a terrible time.”

Now Paul too has a roof over his head thanks to the Rough Sleeper Service, Maidstone Borough Council Outreach Team and AMAT UK.

Paul added: “Claire helped me get the treatment I needed to get the cyst removed from my face, I have also visited the dental bus a couple of times. I didn’t realise all these organisations were out there to help you. They’ve been absolutely brilliant, I don’t know where I’d be today without Claire and all those who have helped.”

Paul, now 40, lives with partner Wendy who was also supported by Claire. They are on the housing list waiting for a home they can share together.

They are both incredibly grateful for all the support they’ve received.

Paul said: “I’d encourage anyone to reach out if they need the support. The organisations are there to help you. I’d really like to thank each of them for all they’ve done for me and my partner. They’ve helped me turn my life around.”

Claire said: “The project has shown it’s an invaluable service for those who need it. Patients often spoke of difficulty accessing services due to fear, perceived stigma and discrimination. Some also felt their healthcare concerns wouldn’t be heard due to being homeless or labelled as having substance misuse problems.

“We have been able to show they are being heard, they are valued and they deserve the right to healthcare.”

How the service expanded

NHS Charities Together’s Community Partnership Programme awarded £323k to KCHFT to expand the Rough Sleeper Service.

Dental and podiatry services are now available alongside the complex care outreach nurses who work with Dentaid, Hepatitis C nurses, mental health services, drug and alcohol prevention, local authorities and other outreach services, including charities such as Porchlight.

More than 1,734 treatments have been provided across Maidstone, Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge, Medway, Folkestone, Canterbury and Dover.

Tina and Claire against a wall