Community champions: Maria, women’s outreach worker

Close-up of Maria, a Back woman with braids, against a painted background

Maria works as the women’s complex needs outreach worker for Islington Council. She tells us how she will be supporting women sleeping rough this winter

Tell us a bit about you. What does your job involve?

I’ve been working in this field for about ten years, and I also have personal experience with rough sleeping. I’m part of the rough sleeping team and my primary role is to work with women who are disadvantaged in multiple ways, including those who are rough sleeping or have a history of it. I address issues in their lives such as health concerns, sexual exploitation, domestic abuse, criminal behaviour, and substance use.

I help people to build daily living skills and connect them with other agencies who can offer support. We take things at the pace they are comfortable with, which means the process can take some time, considering the complexity of the issues people often face. It’s really important for me to build trusting relationships with them, as I may be the only non-exploitative relationship in their life.

What kinds of support do you offer?

Providing housing is only the first step – there are many more complexities involved. Women need to feel safe and may prefer not to stay in shared accommodation, so Islington Council offers various options. We help with basics, like setting up bills, and support people to apply for grants for essential items, like a kettle or bedding – but also try to understand the women’s hopes, dreams, and barriers. It’s about emotional support, as well as practical, so addressing both mental and physical wellbeing.

What does the council do over the colder months to support people sleeping rough?

During winter, the council initiates the Severe Weather Emergency Provision (SWEP) to ensure that people without accommodation have a place to stay when the temperature drops.

Many of the women I work with are socially isolated, so I also like to make sure that I do something special for them: I will create hampers from donations and give them Christmas cards. The charity Streets Kitchen also provides a Christmas meal and a party to make the festive season special.

What advice would you give someone who wants to help people sleeping rough?

I’d recommend reaching out to organisations like the Single Homeless Project, St Mungo’s, StreetLink or Streets Kitchen. If you spot someone sleeping rough, report it to StreetLink, who will notify us. We will take it very seriously and can offer immediate assistance, including accommodation if necessary.

It’s also important not to ignore individuals in distress, especially in cases of domestic abuse – make sure you report it. You might prevent someone from becoming homeless.

What’s your proudest moment?

There are many moments that I’m proud of. Building trust with women who have experienced multiple traumas is a huge part of my job. It’s particularly meaningful when they feel brave enough to open up to me, because it shows me that they have hope.

If someone is in immediate danger, needs medical assistance or is under 18, always call 999. Otherwise, to report somebody sleeping rough to StreetLink, visit the StreetLink website.

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