A day in the life of a Street Outreach Worker
The Street Outreach Service (SOS) was launched in 2019, and I have been part of the team since then.
The SOS team has four members, two from NewHope, who between them lead and manage the team. A CGL, drug and alcohol outreach worker and me, a dual diagnosis outreach worker.
The team works six days a week, each member works for five of these days. The day usually begins around seven a.m. After a quick caffeine fix, my colleague from CGL and I hit the street. In our rucksack we carry supplies of foil blankets, survival bags, hats, hand warmers, gloves, and bottles of water and chocolate; we give those out when needed. We also carry a supply of and are trained to administer Naloxone; this is a drug that can reverse the effects of opioids such as heroin and methadone. Thankfully we haven’t had to use this on outreach yet.
We may have had a report from Streetlink of a person rough sleeping and the area they are located, we then walk or drive to that area to see if we can find that person or persons. If we do find them and they are unknown to us, we will introduce ourselves and tell them about the day centre and they support they can access there.
If we haven’t had a report we go to places we know service users are or have been. We check that they are ok, encourage them to come to the drop in session at the day centre. Here they can have breakfast, a shower, get clothing, a packed lunch and charge their phones. They can also book individual appointments for advice on benefits and housing.
Many of the rough sleepers that are known to us have been sleeping rough for some time, in some cases years. They may have had negative experiences with support services and therefore find it difficult to trust and often find keeping appointments difficult. Our aim is to build trusting, respectful, supportive relationships with them and encourage them to use support available. This may be an ongoing process but we aim never to give up on anyone and to be consistent in our approach and relationship the individual.
We may be on outreach for 2 – 3 hours and then return to the office. Here I might be doing a number of different things, from contacting outside agencies to access support for a service user, completing benefit forms or applying for replacement documents, these documents are often lost whilst sleeping rough and are often needed for id. I might support a service user to an appointment for a mental health assessment or to buy some new shoes. Our service is known and respected by the local police and they will call if they have come into contact with one of our service users. They may tell us where someone is rough sleeping and ask if we can attend.
Each day varies greatly and the role could never be described as ‘boring’. I guess what I have learned is that there is no quick fix for rough sleepers. Someone who has housing assumes the solution is to get somewhere to live, whilst for the service user the solution that day might be a dry pair of socks. The solution is long term and support needs to be ongoing. Supporting someone into accommodation is great but it is the first step and to help prevent someone going back to the street takes support, encouragement and a never give up ethos.