My work background is pretty varied. I first studied IT at university but dropped out to look after my husband, Chris, when he got ill. I eventually graduated with a 2:1 in Archaeology and Prehistory from Sheffield University and spent some time on digs in this country and a few months in Greece. After that I kind of fell into IT work and became an IT Security Analyst for a multi-national pharmaceutical company. I stayed with IT work, mainly for the money, although I was getting very disillusioned with working for such large corporate organisations and was beginning to lack motivation. I decided it was a time for a change so started volunteering at a local advice centre because, as clichéd as this might sound, I wanted to feel good about the work I was doing.
I had been volunteering for about 7 months when I applied for the job at Leeds Simon Community. When I saw the advert I had a look on the website to make sure it was the sort of organisation I wanted to work for and the more I read the more I agreed with the whole ethos of the organisation. Part of the interview process involved going out on outreach with 2 workers, Jen and Jamie, to see what it was all about. What struck me straight away was that all the people we spoke to on the streets were really pleased to see us, everyone spoke about Leeds Simon Community in a very positive way and while we were out I got to see Jen and Jamie doing some work with the people we met on the streets. Some of it was practical work, arranging to take someone to the housing office, and some it was emotional support, spending 10 minutes with someone who had just been discharged from hospital and was feeling pretty low. Because the service users are on the streets, if you go out and see them on the streets they are much more likely to engage with you than if you ask them to keep appointments. Being in a set place at a set time can be quite difficult when you take into consideration the chaotic lifestyle that a lot of our service users live.
I’ve been doing the job so far for 7 weeks and it’s been pretty full on, I’m learning a lot from Clive, Jen and Jamie, and also from the service users. It’s tough when you see the conditions that people have to endure every day, being on the streets clearly brings with it a lot of associated problems. I’ve accompanied service users to doctor or hospital appointments where they’ve been told that they are at a massive risk of overdose or that they are going to die within 6 months if they don’t cut down the amount of substances they use. That’s difficult to hear but what I find harder is that quite often the service user’s say they don’t care, they are so low in mood, motivation and self esteem that they seem ready to give up. This is sad but it’s also extremely frustrating when you can see so much potential in people.
Sometimes service users just want to chat about their problems and what’s going on for them and, even though they don’t expect us to offer a solution, it helps to be able to talk. Quite often service users have little or no positive emotional support in their lives so if you can take time to sit down and have a cup of tea and a chat then it gives them that outlet for their problems and shows them that somebody cares about what’s going on in their lives. This also helps build up the relationship which means the individual may be more willing to engage in a discussion about more difficult issues such as drug and alcohol use, housing and relationships problems.
So far I’ve found the job to be pretty much what I expected, I’m enjoying the challenges and although the job can be emotionally tiring, frustrating and at times quite hard going, it’s also extremely rewarding, challenging and very varied. Looking forward, I hope to keep developing my skills as a support worker at Leeds Simon Community and helping to raise awareness of the issues surrounding homelessness.