Helping homeless people rebuild their lives
Kevin Livingston is an outreach worker in Islington for St Mungo’s, a charity that helps homeless people rebuild their lives. As the weather gets colder, it is more important than ever that those living on the streets are given the support they need. We talk to Kevin about what he does and why its so important.
What made you want to become an outreach worker?
I started volunteering in 2008 because I felt that I wanted to do something meaningful, I would see people sleeping rough and thought that I would do something about it. In 2010, I started working full-time in outreach – and have loved every minute of it. It makes me happy to see people’s lives get turned around, it makes the effort worthwhile.
What do you like most about your job?
I like that you never know what a day can bring. I get the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life – and I get to help people: help them help themselves. It’s difficult imagining myself working somewhere else – my family always say that it’s obvious that this job is what I’m meant to be doing, and I’ve got to agree with them.
What does a ‘typical week’ include?
No week is the same. Our team walk the streets between 9pm and 2am on late shifts, and 6am and 9am in the mornings, following up referrals of people from the public via the StreetLink service. These could be people rough sleeping for the first time or people we’re already in contact with, and trying to support away from the streets in a way that works for them. There’s also admin and linking in with other services, or taking a client accommodation interviews, or accompany them to our No Second Night Out services. If you meet someone who is newly rough sleeping, you have to start building a whole new relationship with them.
What are the most challenging parts of your job and how do you overcome this?
Changes in the past year to benefits mean that it’s much more difficult to get someone into accommodation. There can be only a tiny window of opportunity for that client which, if missed, won’t happen again for weeks.
But when you have a success – particularly when it has been a slow process – and you see a client in accommodation or getting the assistance they need, the challenge is worthwhile.
What other agencies do you work with?
It depends on the needs of the client. For example, we work alongside health services, including drug and alcohol rehabilitation organisations, day centres and other outreach teams. You have to be aware of other organisations to be able to offer the best possible help for them.
What is the best way for people to help if they want to?
To contact StreetLink if they are concerned about someone sleeping rough, giving a detailed location reference. We follow up these referrals as soon as we can. St Mungo’s thinks it’s up to people how they choose to help people who are homeless, but asks people to find out more, consider how their money might best help get the person away from the street for good, and the problems that might have led them there.
If you want to get involved on a more personal level, then volunteering, becoming involved in fundraising with St Mungo’s, or campaigning for social and political change are all great ways to positively affect the lives of those who are experiencing homelessness.
I have reported someone to StreetLink and I still see them on the streets – why is this?
StreetLink is a national referral service which is a way members of the public can help connect someone to local services. It’s important to refer someone and the referrals are followed up. However, people can be rough sleeping because of complex problems and it can take time to support people away from the street. It can also happen that after a report on StreetLink, the individual moves away and the team cannot find them.
StreetLink teams also need to know the exact location of the person – like, “I saw someone in XX park, entry from XX road – ten yards in there is a toilet block; they are sleeping directly behind that block in a bush.”
Other factors can be involved. For example, outreach teams go out at night or in the early hours of the morning to find people sleeping out. If someone is begging during the day and not actually bedded down, outreach teams cannot verify that they are sleeping rough.
But every situation is different. Sometimes we see a change in the person’s situation straight away.