When did you start working with SPEAR?
I initially started working at SPEAR as a Locum Worker at a complex needs hostel in Richmond. I worked there part-time for nearly a year. Alongside this role, I was a complementary therapist, which aligned well with my position as a Locum as I also used to hold mindfulness sessions for the residents. During this time I also worked with the Homeless Health Link Service supporting clients with different health needs, which I did for a few months. This is when I started working at the SPEAR Hub. Once my work with the Health Team came to an end, I then joined the Resettlement & Tenancy Support Team. To begin with, I carried on working part-time as a reflexologist under my complementary therapist role before taking up a full-time position. I’ve now been working at SPEAR for nearly four and a half years.
Did you always want to go into this field of work?
Whilst I actually started off studying photography, I decided towards the end of my studies it was not quite the right fit (despite doing the odd bit of freelance work as a photographer). For the most part, I knew I wanted to work with people. I was involved in volunteer work with individuals with special needs when I was younger, so I was interested in moving back into some kind of support work. I gave myself a year to gain different types of volunteering experience.
I then applied at a prison visitor centre where I had volunteered before, to support families of prison inmates. Here I worked as an Assistant Coordinator which was very rewarding. I have always found this line of work fascinating, especially because of people’s resilience when they face incredibly tough circumstances. The heroic efforts, the skills, and the depth people develop in order to manage their difficult situations always amazes me. Ultimately, I was always quite interested in psychology, and, in particular, what made people tick whilst facing challenging circumstances, so I wanted to devote my time to working with people. I’ve been able to do so consistently in some capacity or another.
What does your typical day-to-day look like?
My typical day usually involves working with a large number of clients who have left hostels and require support adapting to new surroundings and responsibilities before transitioning into permanent accommodation. I support people by helping them set up their accommodation and building a network of support around them depending on their needs and wants. The aim is always to enable people to become more independent and to take back control of their lives, to build confidence and self-worth after suffering the trauma of being street homeless. I work in conjunction with different SPEAR teams and external support agencies on various issues to try to make sure that the client has the support they need.
Kerrie supported one of her clients who wished to pay his tributes to Andrew Watson, the first international Black footballer born in 1856.
Will you work with the same individual client from start to finish or is the process split up between team members?
For the most part, we try to work with the same clients throughout their entire journey with the Tenancy Support Team. Our team is dedicated to supporting ex rough sleepers, as most of our clients will have experienced rough sleeping at some stage of their journey. The Outreach Team is often the first point of contact that our clients have with SPEAR. After that initial introduction, clients will be referred to accommodation – whether that is a hostel, a complex needs hostel, or a house of multiple occupancy – then onto longer-term temporary accommodation in a flat, which is where I come in. Living in a flat can last up to two years. This is usually the last stage of the process until clients are found a permanent home. That said, I’ll continue to work with these same clients whilst they establish themselves in their new surroundings. I’ll work with them in whichever capacity they may need: benefits issues and supporting with anything involved in setting up a new home, referring them to agencies that can support with healthcare related issues, addiction and more. I will then help to find them something permanent either through the council, sheltered accommodation or the private rented sector.
Once they are settled, I finalise my role with a gradual process that formally closes their care. Following this, my client (and any client of SPEAR) can always reach out to us to return and request more support whenever they feel they need it. The last thing we want is for clients to feel ‘abandoned’ – the aim is to foster independence and self-confidence until people feel ready to tackle daily life without our support.
What do you like the most about your role and what do you find the most challenging?
I love working with people, so it’s great that no two days are the same. There’s also something I find very satisfying about being able to offer someone support and to then see that person grow through testing times. It’s particularly special when you see a client develop their own sense of self-worth and confidence and put the pieces of their lives back together after experiencing homelessness. It’s very reassuring for me to see people in a more stable situation where they have the opportunity to rebuild their lives and partake in activities most of us take for granted – inviting people over, or visiting children, for instance.
Knowing that you are facilitating a life-changing experience is really rewarding. That said, some people live very chaotic lives, meaning that, at times, tracking people down can sometimes take the best part of a week in order to establish contact. It’s the nature of the environment we work in, and sometimes reaching out to offer support can be time consuming and slower than we’d like.
It’s very reassuring for me to see people in a more stable situation where they have the opportunity to rebuild their lives and partake in activities most of us take for granted.
On the flip side, although working with people can present its own difficulties, the support network of other services presents an even greater challenge. It is becoming increasingly difficult for us at SPEAR to navigate and negotiate via these systems as they become more complex and, in some cases scarce, which is why people often look to us for help. Now more than ever, it is harder to claim benefits and to navigate health or social service support. The biggest challenge is probably trying to connect all the dots and find the right support for people.
What I do love about my role is the community spirit and sense of unity that SPEAR promotes. During the first lockdown, and prior to other external services kicking in, SPEAR staff and volunteers (many newly recruited for the task) went out to help those most vulnerable in the community, delivering food and medicines to bridge the gap until other services were able to be organised. I am very proud to have been a part of that and to know so many wonderful people in our community. As other services sadly closed due to the pandemic, we became heavily relied on and stood as a voice for other services that were struggling to operate because of lockdown. I think SPEAR thoroughly rose to the challenge during the early stages of the pandemic, and I believe this stands as a testament to the kind of selfless and creative people SPEAR engages with, both client and staff-wise.
For anyone wanting to get into this field, what advice would you give them?
All of my learning derives from practical experiences and I don’t think all of that can be easily replicated in a textbook format. For that reason, getting out into the field via volunteering is a brilliant experience.
Obviously studying will help if you want to progress into more of a management-style role. Specifically for my role, I would say that people skills are fundamental but everything else you can learn over time. I would recommend getting involved in some voluntary work that involves interacting with people whose lives are in crisis and see how you naturally take to it. I say this because it’s very important to have these sorts of skills in order to build trust with people.