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How outreach workers help

Outreach worker David Leatherbarrow tells us all about St Mungo's and the work he does to help the homeless.

What made you want to become an outreach worker?

I was in construction for years. Then I went to Thailand for a month and the whole experience just changed me. I looked around and realised I wasn’t doing anything with my life apart from construction. I was determined to make that change.

I feel like I’m on a better path now, I just want to help.

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.

I love it. It’s the best decision I ever made.

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 them 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.

People need to look after people.

What methods are used for those who do not engage?

It can be as simple as just speaking to the service users. If we always turn up for them, 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 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 have not 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

Do you find that a lot of students engage with rough sleepers?

The night life in Bournemouth consists mainly of students. At the time they might be  thinking that they’re helping by giving someone sleeping rough a pound or a fiver.

However, educating them on using StreetLink and the work we do will ensure that more beneficial forms of help are being provided for rough sleepers.

The StreetLink app allows you to provide us at St Mungo’s and other local authorities information about someone you see sleeping rough. We can then connect with them and offer support.

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

If they do not gain those skills, there is a massive risk of our service users returning to the streets. Therefore, our support with paperwork, CVs, benefits, jobcentre, 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 council, the supported accommodation agencies and the mental health team is a link that is used by all parties. We and the council will continue to coincide to create successes.

Read about our Make Change Count work to help the homeless.