A day on Outreach

Nadia, Outreach Worker

Nadia is an Outreach Worker at St Petrocs. Nadia’s job is to help people sleeping rough access the support they need to move away from the streets. This is an account of a day in October 2020.

Sometimes the people experiencing street homelessness can be initially resistant to engage with services due to a distrust in systems, because they may have felt let down in the past. The role involves getting to know people, understanding their history and what has led them to their current situation. The outreach workers initiate a working relationship and trust, so that it is realised that St Petrocs are here to help.

The outreach workers help people experiencing street homelessness by working towards finding a route off the streets. Seeking emergency accommodation, and longer-term housing solutions, as well as enabling access to healthcare, and when appropriate, support for mental health, and access to services to recover from dependencies on alcohol or drugs.

Read Nadia’s account of a day on outreach:

‘’There is no such thing as a typical day in outreach, they are all different. No matter how well you plan a day there is always the possibility that it will go sideways (and it quite often does!).

The day usually starts with checking my emails and voicemails, this will dictate where I travel to first. It could be anywhere in quite a large area as I cover all of Cornwall, east of Truro.

On this day, a lot of the contacts were coming from a single location. I drove there and based myself initially at one of the St Petrocs residential properties which has an office with a desk I can use. This is a luxury for an outreach worker, normally your car is your office.

My first visit is to a couple who are camped on a clifftop! This may sound like a risky location, but they consider it safer than sleeping in town due to the risk of being attacked. The site is well hidden and sheltered from winds in all directions but from the north. One of the things I do when I speak to people is to offer them practical items like socks or dry bedding. On this occasion the couple are very organised and have most things.

 

I’m with them for about an hour doing casework, it’s so vital to be able to do that face to face. It gives you the ability to read them which you just don’t have over the phone. This couple are very low risk to me, but I have had particularly troubled clients in the past and I’m always aware of my vulnerability in such a remote place. I always double up with a partner agency or a free colleague where needed. We all carry a personal GPS panic alarm as well, and phone a colleague first if we are heading into a potentially risky situation.

I give them directions and instructions on how to access support services in town, where to access food etc. Lastly, I remind them to keep their phones charged. This is so important! We have developed links with a couple of supportive agencies in town that will allow our clients to charge their devices which means we can stay in touch. In smaller towns it might be a pasty shop or a book shop where the staff are kind enough to act as a contact and phone charging point.

I plan for a next contact before I leave, whether it’s a phone call or a face to face. Having it in the diary means you can maintain a regularity and build relationships with people.

Back in town, I notice another couple of people in a doorway begging, I approach, introduce myself and ask if they need any housing related support. They thank me but say they are housed locally so I leave them to it and make my way back to the St Petrocs property to write up my notes.

One of things which has happened throughout the day is that I’ve been contacted by the NHS Health 4 Homeless team who are trying to contact someone regarding an urgent appointment. I have been phoning around different contacts between dealing with the last couple trying to find him. Eventually this pays off, he receives my message and we’re able to make an appointment.

My next appointment is with a client that it is in temporary accommodation. There is a space available at a St Petrocs property, but the manager wants to meet her first so that they can both ask questions. I meet the client and chaperone her to a local café where we have arranged to meet the accommodation manager. The meeting goes really well, and the client is offered the room. Chaperoning and advocacy are important aspects of the role as the prospect of meeting a manager or agency can be quite overwhelming for some people, especially if they have anxiety issues. As Covid restrictions have waxed and waned, meeting places have varied. We have had to be constantly mindful of sticking to the guidelines so as not to spread or catch the disease.

My next client has been referred by another agency who have asked if we could see him together. In the end our diaries couldn’t match up but as the client has been sleeping rough, I say I’ll go out today. I make my way to where the client is, he is able to sofa surf a few nights with a friend. We sit in the in front garden and discuss his situation but it’s not ideal as it’s quite a busy street and we can’t talk privately. I arrange with him to call him in 20 minutes and I make my way back to the St Petrocs office. I call him and we conduct an interview over the phone. I usually like to interview people face to face in order to read them, but you have to safeguard the confidentiality of someone’s information over all else. I refer him to our accommodation, and he is accepted.

I finish writing up my notes for the day at the house and I’m just about to leave when I’m collared by one of the residents. He asks me if I can take a sample ‘of a personal nature’ up to the medical centre as he has mobility issues. The packaging is not that opaque, and the contents are clearly visible, but I oblige, I hide it amongst some paperwork and hope nobody notices!

I have clients tomorrow who are very likely to need food and warm clothing. I stop in our resource centre in Truro to see what is available there. I load 2 sleeping bags, socks, coats, and some food into my car and fill up with petrol on the way home as I’m travelling further afield in the morning.’’