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Published on: Covid-19

Fiona Thornton — Covid 19 on the frontline of Health and Wellbeing Services

It can be very lonely if you’re only seeing someone during the week for maybe 15 minutes, that can be very isolating and scary.

Over the period of Covid-19, we are bringing you first hand experiences from our dedicated staff and volunteers working in our frontline services who are giving homeless people in the West a voice. Meet Fiona Thornton, our Occupational Therapist who works as part of our Health & Wellbeing Team.

My name is Fiona Thornton, I am an Occupational Therapist and I’ve been working with Galway Simon for three years now. I support clients across our housing and homelessness prevention services.

The main aim of my work is to help people who are experiencing homelessness to set goals in their lives, and support them to achieve these. Initially it is with the support of their key worker, and myself but ultimately the goal is that they would maintain these goals independently from Galway Simon.

Occupational Therapists like me help people to make lifestyle changes or environmental changes and gain the confidence and skills they need to allow them to do what they want to do and live life to the fullest.

My work involves a lot of one-on-one time with clients, it’s so important to build relationships and to really hone in on what they want to do. But since Covid-19, I’ve had to take out a lot of the social and face-to-face interaction, which is really important in terms of getting to know somebody and helping them to unfold the challenges they might be facing.

Now, I am in touch with clients by phone which is a very different. Being able to do video calls and actually having a visual has been really good but the preference would always be sitting down with somebody on a one-to-one basis. It can be easier for someone to say ‘I am fine’ but when they sit in front of you, you can pick up on their body language and probe it a little bit more, whereas on the phone it’s harder to do that.

Some of the activities I’ve been supporting people to participate in include gardening, reading, writing and the likes of arts and crafts and the Galway Simon Music Project. I’ve been encouraging people to journal their experience during this pandemic as a way of self-expression and getting their fears and concerns out on paper. But also, to help people see their own support.

Occupying time is such an important thing but the opportunities for that during a pandemic are limited greatly.

For some, they are embracing being on their own, they are trying new hobbies and occupations. Then for other people, they can be very overwhelmed sometimes, because they don’t know what or how to access things. We are all creatures of habit and build our days doing things we want and need to do, in the current pandemic, access to this is stopped and the change of routine and lack of participation in meaningful occupations is really difficult. That structure we take for granted, our routine and roles that we do everyday, has been tossed on its head. And I suppose on top of that, clients might not be seeing anyone but Galway Simon staff because they are trying to adhere to social distancing. Life can be lonely enough without a pandemic.

It can be very lonely if you’re only seeing someone during the week for maybe 15 minutes, that can be very isolating and scary.

That’s why activities like the Music Project are so important. Brian and Carol, the facilitators, have been fantastic in sharing their knowledge and time with the group. Without their skills, the group couldn’t happen. We are delighted to have it back up and running through Zoom which has been super. We did our fourth rehearsal session recently and it’s great that clients are being able to see each other and not just a staff member. These are their peers, their friends, and that connection is really important. They might have been on phone calls to each other but now they are actually seeing each other and have the tools to maintain the connection with family or friends or other groups.

I think that the group has really blossomed, even in terms of confidence, sense of self and social skills. In the beginning, you could see people being very quiet, shy, apprehensive but then all of a sudden you can’t get anyone to stop talking. It’s really lovely to see the fun and the craic that happens between people. We have had new members join since Covid 19. One of the positives of online groups is you can join a class/group and don’t have to physically leave your accommodation, it removes potential anxiety and allows people to sample classes, which develops skills and confidence to join physically when groups can restart in the community.

The power of being part of something, and belonging to something, has a knock of effect on physical, mental health and overall wellbeing.

It is a whole new world in a way for a lot of people. We have been trying to get people up and running with technology so that they have that outlet and opportunities to connect with people. Key workers and myself have helped to source technology, bridge the gap between anxiety with the technology and actually using it for the likes of the Music Project rehearsals. To connect with our Simon activities, but also connect with things in the wider community like gardening, yoga classes and different things that people can do and feel self-sufficient.

I think at the start of this everyone was nearly, paralysed and frozen with fear, whereas I think the opportunities now are becoming clearer for people.

People are becoming a lot more comfortable with what is ok, what is not ok and how they can use technology and think outside the box a little bit to still interact with people. But it has been and is a massive transition and something that we are learning to adapt to.

For me, still finding connections and still being able to connect with people- being via the phone or by using technology, gives me that feeling of making an impact. That is what motivates me.

Fiona Thornton
Occupational Therapist

At Galway Simon, our frontline staff are working relentlessly, doing whatever it takes, to help those experiencing or at risk of homelessness to live safe and well in their local community where they belong. We remain fully committed to maintaining effective relationships with our clients that reassures them that they belong and that they are valued.

The Covid-19 crisis is putting so many already vulnerable people at particular risk, including those who are homeless and those who are at risk of falling into homelessness due to a sudden reduction in income. Right now, our services are stretched more than ever.

If you are in a position to support Galway Simon, please help us to ensure that nobody has to face this crisis alone by giving a donation today.