My name is Carmel and 2019 was the year I became part of the team of wonderful people in SPEAR as a Trainee Outreach Worker. Yes, you read that right, – a trainee. Looking at my picture, I’m guessing I don’t look the sort of person you’d expect to be a trainee. At the age of 64 I’m still learning new skills and I am very grateful that SPEAR are inclusive and gave me a chance.
Why did I choose to work helping those experiencing homelessness? As I had alcoholism in my family, I saw first-hand how quickly someone can lose themselves first in drink and then in homelessness. It soon becomes a way of life, something the person doesn’t see. I saw them stop living and just start surviving. Until they didn’t, and now I’m determined no one else should die from being homeless.
I am now working hard to help those experiencing homelessness, to be able to bring hope and opportunity to people who think they don’t have a chance. This wasn’t a straightforward journey for me, as I gained my qualifications later on in life, only recently completing my degree.
So what does a Trainee Outreach Worker do? The one thing we don’t do is keep regular hours. If your ideal job is 9 to 5 then outreach work is not for you! Put simply, I am often the first SPEAR person that someone who is sleeping rough meets. Before someone can be a client, we need to see that they are street homeless, and that means finding them when they are sleeping.
So while most of you are tucked in bed I’m starting my shift on the streets of SW London, going out to see who I can find and start to help. This can be late at night or the early hours of the morning.
How do we know where to look? Through the help of people like you. If you see someone sleeping rough please take the time to let us know where they are and what they look like. These two little pieces of information can really change a life. It is so simple to do. On the home page of the SPEAR website is a ‘Refer a Rough Sleeper’ link. Please, please, please, bookmark this on your phone, so you can tell us.
This will take you to Streetlink who take the referrals and pass them to local Outreach Teams throughout England and Wales. So if you are visiting family and friends over the festive period and you see someone sleeping rough, just refer them and you will find them help.
What happens on an Outreach Shift? No shift is ever the same. We go out in pairs, often with volunteers. As winter kicks in, you notice the cold. I don’t mean the chill in the air. I’m talking about the ground. At night you are walking on a block of ice that just drains the heat from your feet. You have to keep moving or the numbness seeps in. This is what people are sleeping. Frightening isn’t it?
You need to be considerate when approaching someone who is sleeping rough. Firstly, they feel vulnerable sleeping outside, and may not realise that we’re there to help. Secondly they’re sleeping. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t like being woken up!
How can you help people immediately? When we go on shift, we often take food, drinks, new socks, underwear, gloves and hats so we can meet immediate welfare needs. We take their details and where possible, we try and find them access to temporary accommodation. We ask them to come to a SPEAR Hub the next day so we can start them on the path from homelessness to independence. We help them with their health needs and explore longer term housing options.
What are the highs and lows of Outreach? The biggest low is when you find someone and want to share all SPEAR can offer, and they refuse your help. Some people have been through trauma or are entrenched rough sleepers and don’t feel ready to take advantage of our services. However, we will keep visiting to monitor their well-being, build relationships and grow trust, until they are ready to take the next step.
Obviously the best feeling, is when you get someone off the street and into accommodation straight away. When they went to sleep, they were at their lowest ebb with no hope for the future, feeling invisible and alone. They were unaware that someone had noticed them and cared enough. But, when we wake them and you tell them you can take them somewhere to live, it’s the best feeling in the world.
Why should we help SPEAR? Outreach is only the first step to all the services SPEAR offer, from accommodation, health support, education & employment and Service User Involvement. Many of these services are only possible through financial donations and volunteer support. Without you, lives filled with despair would remain unchanged. Please support our work this Christmas and help transform lives.
I never thought I would be an Outreach Worker at SPEAR, but I can tell you, that the difference SPEAR makes every single day is remarkable.
Their work only continues with the support and help from people like you.
Carmel Gallagher – Trainee Outreach Worker
Please consider making a donation to help fund more positions like Carmel’s.