UCLH team corridor

When you think of a person saving another’s life, you automatically envisage the dramatic; saving a person before they are struck by a train or preventing someone from choking.

For Josie Mavromatis, first ever Pathway Care Navigator and winner of the Apprentice of the Year award for London Leaning Consortium (pictured middle-right), saving someone’s life is something that is achieved on a gradual basis. It’s a day-to-day accomplishment that involves reaching out to an individual, to develop and nurture a relationship that is strong enough to direct a person out of homelessness, and on a path to a better life.

Pathway is the UK’s leading homeless healthcare charity and thanks to a grant from UCLH Charity, it is about to extend its Care Navigator programme, a scheme which trains ex-homeless people to support others throughout situations that have made them homeless.

Josie explains that as a Pathway Care Navigator, it is her role to navigate; to “show the homeless the way” and work with local councils, hospitals, homeless shelters and clothes banks to get the individual off the streets and working to solve their personal demons, whether this be drug addiction, alcoholism, or personal tragedy. This is important work, and potentially lifesaving because as Dr Nigel Hewett, Medical Director for Pathway explains, “homeless people in the UK don’t die from exposure. They die from treatable medical conditions”.

Arguably, what makes a Care Navigator unique is their ability to relate as they themselves have been homeless before, and have often experienced similar problems. This includes Josie herself, who paints a picture of herself 11 years ago as someone who is miles away from the composed, articulate and inspiring woman that sits in front of me.

 “11 years ago I was homeless and had a problem with alcohol and as an outcome of this I suffered serious health complications that are associated with this lifestyle.  Living on the streets was rough and at one point I developed a respiratory infection which resulted in having part of my lung removed. Shortly after this I found out that I’d developed TB.”

The changing point for Josie was meeting a kind and caring nurse whilst receiving treatment for TB in hospital, which was spread over a period of a year enabling Josie to develop a good relationship with the nurse. “The nurse believed in me and willed me to do well to the extent that she introduced Josie to the UCLH Find and Treat team, where I volunteered on part time basis for five years. This enabled me to structure my life and find meaning. It may be that this nurse was my guardian angel in disguise.”

On the back of Find and Treat, Josie was put forward for the position of Care Navigator for Pathway, where she was trained up in counselling, re-sat her GCSE’s in Maths and English, and received NVQ qualifications in Health and Social Care. Now Josie has worked with Pathway for six years and couldn’t be further from the chaotic lifestyle that she used to live.

“I’ve been 11 years sober and tea is my only drug”, she jokes, before coming to a more serious conclusion. “Life before is incomparable to after and this is why I am attracted to the position of Care Navigator. I want to share this life with others.”

Josie explains that her daily tasks include talking to homeless people and helping them with administrative tasks like applying for Jobseeker’s Allowance and working with local councils to re-house homeless people.

Josie says that her favourite part of the job is that every one person she helps is different, and it is such a great feeling when a person is doing well. For instance, four years ago, Josie helped one man who was undergoing cancer treatment, which left him unable to work and subsequently he lost his flat. Josie helped find him somewhere to live when he came out of hospital, and for this he is forever grateful, and keeps in touch, four years later. “He called me his angel in disguise – the same comparison that I made to the nurse that helped me 11 years ago. I’m so happy that I can be the helping hand that once extended its arm to me.”

UCLH Charity has provided a grant of £100k to extend the Care Navigator programme, which will fund two additional apprenticeships. This will also help Pathway to develop the evidence base to achieve mainstream NHS funding for posts in the long term.

To find out more about Pathway or Care Navigators, visit the Pathway website: http://www.pathway.org.uk/