Counselling support for the homeless

St Giles’ Church in Oxford has been supporting the provision of regular specialist counselling for the homeless in the city of Oxford for the past year through a partnership with The Gatehouse charity.

The project received a grant from the Development Fund in 2020 to fund the recruitment of a specialist counsellor to support vulnerable people at the Gatehouse. Due to the pandemic, the start of the counselling project was delayed but has now been underway for almost a year and is having a lifechanging impact on homeless people in the city.

The counselling at the Gatehouse is for adults who are homeless and vulnerably housed in Oxford. Clients who would not typically engage with therapeutic intervention for multiple reasons, including the group nature of the Gatehouse, have the option to receive one-to-one counselling via telephone, online video calling or face to face.

St Giles’ Church have made the parish hall and church building available for the Gatehouse to use for the counselling service away from the hustle and bustle of the Gatehouse Community Centre. The specialist counselling service is supporting 10-12 clients for four hours a week. It also acts as a resource for the support staff at the Gatehouse to seek additional and specific advice to support the clients in need and integrate people into mainstream mental health support services or independent living.

Reflecting on the partnership project so far, the Revd Dr Anne Holmes, Associate Priest at St Giles’, said:

“It is really life-changing and worthwhile work.  We hope that the project can act as a trailblazing service in the diocese and encourage other churches to consider how they could partner with local organisations and support the homeless in their towns and cities.

“A comparable counselling service is not available at other homeless projects in the city, so it is a vital lifeline for homeless and vulnerable adults. Just getting through the day and learning to manage is an achievement for the clients, so being able to develop independence and be integrated into society is a big milestone.”

Katrina Horne, CEO at The Gatehouse, said:

“The new Counselling Service has had a huge impact on our Gatehouse clients already after just one year. Many of our clients can experience mental health needs and several have seen a significant improvement in their wellbeing. The counselling has enabled clients to gain better self-management skills, to self-advocate better and has even helped to break the cycle of homelessness for some.

“The specialist service is proving to be lifechanging for the clients and is very valued by them. The one-to-one element makes it far less daunting than a group therapy setting. This means that the clients can speak confidentially and gain more from the sessions. Our hope is that the counselling will provide a beneficial legacy for clients to manage long-term independence and freedom.”

“The partnership we have with St Giles’ Church is absolutely crucial to the success of the support we provide. We wouldn’t be able to continue running the counselling service without their daily support and providing space in the parish rooms.”

The Gatehouse Charity was founded by Oxford Churches Together over 30 years ago. The aim of the organisation is to provide support for retaining or gaining housing for the homeless and vulnerable adults in the city of Oxford.