This week, we’re talking all about what our outreach workers do. We always say that homelessness isn't simply solved by giving someone a home. That's why our support is focused on so much more than food provision. It’s also why we employ full time outreach workers – we can’t end homelessness if we only work once a week.
Our small team of seven outreach workers provide emotional and practical support to people who are homeless and vulnerable. Let's talk more about our outreach workers and what their support looks like. We'll explain why the work our outreach workers do matters and why we need your support.
What is an outreach worker?
Let’s start by explaining what our outreach workers are. Their mission is to provide support to people who are homeless. They’re the ones out there in the morning, night and day, delivering support to people who are homeless or in unsafe accommodation. They don’t have an office. They’re not at a desk. They work with people who are at an extremely vulnerable stage in their lives. We have seven outreach workers based in Leeds, Bradford and Kirklees.
Why they’re paid.
Our outreach workers aren’t volunteers. And for good reason. Ending homelessness in West Yorkshire is a huge task, which is why we need full time workers who can be on hand to provide support. They can be up at the crack of dawn to head out onto the streets to look for people sleeping rough. Or they could be out last thing at night, offering support to people with nowhere else to turn. During the day, they’re working with clients to provide emotional and practical support, which we’ll discuss more below.
Its important that our outreach workers are given the tools they need to be able to offer a wide range of practical and emotional support. This includes comprehensive training in areas such as addictions, mental health and trauma informed care. We also have staff with specialisms within their role for example NRPF (No Recourse to Public Funds), and gender specific services to further enhance our support offer. Our clients’ needs are varied and complex and we need to ensure that we are constantly upskilling our staff with any new training that will assist us in dealing with the issues our clients face.
What they do.
An outreach worker’s day is never the same. We work with each person to meet their own aspirations and goals. The support we provide will look different for each individual.
Practical support involves supporting people to access services that will help them meet their goals. This could be accompanying someone to an appointment, advocating for our client or helping them fill out forms.
For example, Freddie* is homeless and wants to reduce his drug use. We’ve supported him to regularly attend appointments with drug services. We've also helped him register with a GP so that he can begin a methadone prescription.
Or it could mean assisting people with housing, like Lacey*. We contacted the local authority to advocate on Lacey's behalf to ensure she received a space in emergency accommodation. We've recently supported her to move into temporary accommodation. It's still a way off from a home of her own but it's somewhere more stable for her to stay. As well as helping Lacey regularly access a mental health service and doctors’ appointments, we've been supporting her with solicitor appointments. Lacey is currently separated from her children and is hoping to begin visits again.
Emotional support is so vital, as people experiencing homelessness are far more likely to suffer from mental ill health. Many people we work with don’t have a support network they can turn to. They’ve often had breakdowns in family relationships. It’s important for us to provide non-judgemental emotional support and be someone they can turn to who will listen to them.
For example, Tash* is currently staying in temporary accommodation after fleeing domestic abuse. We meet her regularly for wellbeing walks as she feels unsafe walking around the city on her own. While we take a stroll, Tash will chat to us about how she’s feeling.
Emotional support is focused on increasing feelings of self-worth. Many homeless people have low feelings of self-esteem. Jill* has been restricted from accessing many services due to her past behaviour, which was labelled "chaotic" and "difficult". This has really affected Jill’s feelings of self-worth. We're working with Jill to help her focus on her strengths. Together, we set weekly goals that give her purpose and work towards her aspirations.
We don’t wait for people to come to us – we go to them. Working outside constantly can look different – we may be walking around the city centre, looking for people sleeping rough, or be attending appointments with clients or checking in with them at their temporary accommodation.
Out early in the morning, we’ll let people know about services available for breakfast or housing support. Late at night, we help people access emergency accommodation, or arrange to meet them the next day to offer more support. Being constantly on the go, out and about, there’s never a dull moment.
Ending homelessness requires full time outreach workers who can provide person-centred support. They work with an individual to reach their goals and aspirations. Practical support with appointments, forms and meetings is important. But, emotional support is equally as vital.
We're working hard to provide support to people experiencing homelessness in West Yorkshire. We can't do this without your help - please support us today.
*Real name not used