An outreach worker speaks about the work that takes place to help rough sleepers in Bournemouth

Homeless manDid you know that the Council spends almost £10 million per year on direct services to help people faced with homelessness?

We fund 24/7 support at five hostels providing approximately 150 bed spaces in Bournemouth. We also fund a rough sleeper team – provided by St Mungo’s – to engage with rough sleepers to encourage take up of support services and accommodation to help them to move forward in their lives.

In an average month, the team helps approximately 15 rough sleepers back into accommodation.

We also take extra measures and initiate The Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) when we are alerted to freezing weather conditions. When SWEP is initiated we provide people with direct access to accommodation, and every effort is made to contact all rough sleepers and to get them inside. The SWEP also has provision to accommodate people who have a dog.

David Leatherbarrow, an outreach worker for St Mungo’s, recently spoke to us about the work he does on the streets of Bournemouth:

What are the common scenarios for why people are rough sleeping?

There are several reasons – it could happen to anyone. We deal with addiction, alcohol dependency and mental health. There are also situations where a few things just haven’t gone right for someone, they’ve made a few wrong decisions or life has just gone against them. Suddenly, service users find themselves rough sleeping. I think there are some public misconceptions but at the end of the day no one deserves it. Service users are just everyday people and we work with a varied mix of personalities. No one is a million miles away from rough sleeping.

What methods are used for those who don’t engage?

It can be as simple as just speaking to the service users. If we always turn up for them then eventually the cloud will be lifted and they will give you a chance. It’s the same as any relationship, they need to know that you’re doing what you say you’re going to do because you have their best interests at heart. We need to give our service users a reason to trust us. Everyone needs a bit of help sometimes.

What made you want to become an outreach worker?

I was in construction for years and then I went travelling for a month and the whole experience changed me. I looked around and realised I wasn’t doing anything with my life apart from construction and I was determined to make that change. I feel like I’m on a better path now, I just want to help. It’s the best decision I ever made.

I came across the position at St Mungo’s but there was no way I thought I would get it. However, my construction job allowed me to have experience working with HMOs (Houses of Multiple Occupation), benefits and a similar client group, so I wasn’t completely naïve to the situations out there.

How did you learn to interact and connect with service users?

That was one of my biggest fears when I started, would any of the service users want to connect with me? The rest of my team are fantastic though so I’ve learnt so much. At the end of the day, they’re just like you and me. We must ensure we fight their corner, support and be an advocate for them. Our service users deserve our respect and we must show them compassion and be understanding – those three things are huge in this job.

How important is it that service users develop skills and knowledge to help them move into accommodation?

If they don’t gain those skills, there is a massive risk of our service users returning to the streets. Therefore, our support with paperwork, CV’s, benefits, job centre etc. is crucial. We want to ensure that they can sustain themselves and move on from the rough sleeper lifestyle. Our multi-agency work with the Bournemouth Council, the supported accommodation agencies and the mental health team is a link that is utilised by all parties. We and the Council will continue to coincide to create successes.

What to do to helpWhat is the best thing someone can do if they see a rough sleeper?

Educating people about StreetLink (the organisation that enables members of the public to connect people sleeping rough with the local services that can support them) and the work we do at St Mungo’s will ensure that more beneficial forms of help are being provided for rough sleepers. The StreetLink app allows you to provide us and  local authorities with information about someone you see sleeping rough. We can then connect with them and offer support.

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