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Maria Strachan's History

Maria's Work at Drumpark Cottage 1985 to 1991

CHAPTER TWO

The officials at the Homeless Office of Monklands District Council phoned often to find out if we had space for someone. Experience taught us that people were obviously homeless for a reason. Often it was because of financial difficulties. Young people falling out with their families or being booted out because they were a financial liability to their parents seemed to be more and more prevalent. Young people didn't normally stay for very long - a matter of weeks until they either patched up things with their family or went to stay with a friend.

Homeless people in their 30's and 40's however were a very different case. We were finding that those who were coming to stay with us had perhaps been on the homeless circuit for months if not years. They became homeless for various reasons but the underlying cause seemed to track back to a mental health breakdown. Additionally some people were clearly having ongoing mental health problems. Their behaviour was not acceptable to the normal homeless hostels and so their tenancy would be short-lived. Maria became known as being able to tolerate and provide a home for people who no-one else could handle. Her gifts were being put to very full use and her ability to understand people allowed her to be able to put people at ease. Maria has always been able to relate to people well and she was quickly able to tell how to help an individual. Her experience as a nurse and her job as a telephone receptionist with the Emergency Medical Service in Bellshill gave her an understanding of medical issues and of the National Health service facilities. Maria would often spend her time sitting in doctors surgery waiting rooms with people from Drumpark Cottage - most of them had different doctors at different surgeries and she always tried to maintain the continuity with a doctor if possible. Only when the person came from outside the area would Maria help them to register with a local GP.

Arthur was one particularly difficult individual with serious mental health problems. He was the youngest of a large family and had spent years living rough and in hostels. In some respects he was like the wee spoilt boy; you could say much to him without it resulting in him having a sulk. He was very aware - almost acutely - of what people were saying about him. He would spend hours each day walking back and forward to Monklands Hospital Psychiatric Unit. He was with us for some years - the longest time that he had spent anywhere. During this time Maria spent much time helping Arthur and the bond of friendship and trust grew. Arthur began helping Maria with the shopping - a daily task as more and more people were being fed each day! We found on checking that Arthurs social security benefits were only unemployment benefit - no-one had ever expalined to him that he should be receiving sickness benefit. We got hold of the necessary forms and helped him to fill them in. When his request for the appropriate benefits was refused we contacted the local MP for help. Although it took a few months for the whole process, Arthur eventually won his right to benefits and received a greatly increased weekly payment. Better news was that the payment was backdated 3 years and he received an amount of around £2000. Maria managed to convince Arthur that rather than spend the money on drink as he quite often did, that he should buy a complete set of new clothes and consider using some of the money to fly to Ireland to visit one of his brothers. This he did. He did fly to Ireland then flew back the same day as he didn't fancy it. He also took the bus and train down to Bournmouth to visit another brother and spent a few days down there. Arthur moved out to his own accommodation after a while but still came back to visit Maria reasonably regularly.

Social Workers began to visit Drumpark Cottage as they had heard about Maria's work and ability to take on difficult cases. We got to know quite a few social workers. The better ones tended to keep in touch although a good number of them were looking to 'dump' their client somewhere safe so that they needn't maintain contact. Social Workers came from Coatbridge and Airdrie but we seemed to build up a better rapport with the team from Cumbernauld - perhaps they had more extreme cases up there?.. or fewer local resources?

"Her work was hard and incredibly stressful, yet she was able to care for difficult people when many others had failed. This section of her story attempts to tell of the good times and the not so good times - unfortunately though amongst the many good times and success stories the difficulties that Maria faced with the authorities have to be told. These difficulties led to her death, and the death of others. It is a story that has to be told. "

Link to Drumpark Cottage summary page

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Material Copyright © 2000 Maria Strachan