Posted in homeless, volunteer story, tagged Bradford, emotional support, engagement, homeless, Homelessness, Huddersfield, Leeds, transformation, volunteer, volunteering on May 9, 2011|
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The first time I got involved with Simon on the Streets as a volunteer it transformed my life. Let me try and tell you why.
Nothing can prepare you for your first experience with Simon on the Streets. Mine being the moment when we turned the corner in the Soup Van to see 40-50 people waiting with hunger and anticipation. I was immediately given the job of handing out the blankets and although closely watched by my new colleagues I was left to settle in on my own with my new job.
As I watched around me, I noticed two things; firstly that the practical needs were being delivered to those in need; food, blankets, the finest tea inLeeds. Additionally, I saw emotional support being provided by a formidable group of people. These volunteers and full time workers, from all different backgrounds and experiences were giving up the most precious thing they had. Their time.
As my own experience developed, I realised how special these people are and how good it felt being part of their team. Later, as I met more volunteers who provide different services to the homeless and rootless people ofLeeds, I understood that they knew different people to me and that the network of support extended far beyond the provision of the Soup Van. They offered a listening ear and a helping hand everyday and every night to those people who, for whatever reason were not receiving support from the recognised support agencies.
As well as providing support to the most vulnerable people in Leeds, Huddersfield and Bradford, the friendships and support that exists within Simon on the Streets creates an environment of understanding, commitment, loyalty and trust.
The bond that is created between the volunteers and the fulltime workers is something I have not experienced before. Not only is there an abundance of fun, banter and humor, there is an atmosphere that takes you away from life’s challenges and gives you a sense of purpose and belonging surrounded by thoughtfulness and caring. Everybody is there to listen, not to pry or judge, just to be there when you need to share.
Now in my eight year as a volunteer, I find myself sharing with others the joy of being a volunteer with Simon on the Streets. People can hear how excited and passionate I am about our organisation. However, the way to truly appreciate it is to be part of an amazing team and have their “first moment”. From that point on, they will be part of a unique group of people. It may also transform your life!
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The Simon Soup Run
I started working with the Simon on the Streets Community in April of this year. As a new worker your first weeks consist of trawling around town and getting your face known. The most visible group of people we work with wear fluorescent orange vests and sell the big issue. Through my daily chats with these vendors I learned a lot. I’m sorry to say that it was also through them that I was exposed to the harsh realities of what can come through living a street lifestyle.
Neil was one of the first people I was introduced to. He was a pleasant and talkative guy in his twenties. The last time I saw him was on a Friday afternoon outside the coach station. He’d been suffering with what appeared to be a bad cold for weeks and I remember that he was doing his best to ignore a bunch of school kids who were hurling abuse in his general direction.
The following week the rumour didn’t take long to get around. A phone call confirmed that he had died at the weekend. Most of his friends found out at roughly the same time as I did. I remember seeing one of them marching down the street crying shortly afterwards. The death of a friend under these circumstances carries with it everything people normally go through during bereavement but also a brutal reminder of your own vulnerability. Through this trying time our support made a real difference to those people directly affected.
Four of Neil’s friends were particularly shaken by his death. Over the following weeks our team offered them support in a number of ways. It was important to them that they should be able to pay their respects and they turned to us to help them. We got hold of suits, shirts, shoes and ties for them to wear at the funeral. We paid for their haircuts, accompanied them to the funeral and offered a shoulder for them to cry on.
We stuck with them through a difficult time and I’m dubious as to whether they could have participated in the grieving process in the same way had it not been for the support we offered. At such a challenging time our efforts can be invaluable.
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Rough Sleeping in Leeds
I have been a volunteer with Leeds Simon Community since March 2007. I first heard about the Leeds Simon Community whilst running a project through Leeds University called Homed. Homed is a project that aims to increase the awareness and involvement of health care students in the field of homelessness. It works in 2 hostels in the Leeds area providing support and information to residents on a weekly basis. I had been involved in this project for two years when I first heard about the Leeds Simon Community. I became interested in the idea of being able to provide support to rough sleepers and people living on the streets, something I had no previous experience of at this time. I learned more about it and consequently became involved.
Since joining the Leeds Simon Community I have been involved in Street Outreach and the Breakfast Club. I have volunteered on street outreach for both their morning and evening sessions. I enjoy it because every session is different and you can never anticipate an outcome. The timings of outreach sessions aim to access those in need of most support, which is somewhat difficult to predict.
These sessions are both a challenge yet incredibly rewarding, and I feel that through continuity and determination there are excellent results. For example to see the small adjustments, concerning an individual’s attitude to their current situation is fulfilling in itself.
At the Breakfast Club I have been able to meet many service users more intensively engaged with Leeds Simon Community. These sessions allow full time Leeds Simon Community workers and volunteers to engage with service users in a more structured manner. These sessions have been an eye opener to the long term practical and emotional support required regarding individuals. Leeds Simon Community may and do work with some individuals for months or years before they feel ready to even consider making changes to their current situation.
Leeds Simon on the Streets community comprises 3 full time members of staff and a small group of volunteers. I feel the success of work carried out by Simon on the Streets lies largely in its strategy and approach. Workers and volunteers demonstrate a genuine interest to get to know individuals on the street and to provide support in a reliable and dependable manner.
Volunteering with the Simon on the Streets has reemphasized to me the large number of issues faced by homeless people on a day to day basis, including drug issues, mental health problems, and difficulty obtaining adequate housing benefits and health care. Being able to offer my support to individuals during outreach sessions over the past 7 months has been an entirely rewarding experience and I am proud to be part of such a hardworking and committed team.
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Posted in emotional support, homeless, Leeds, practical support, rough sleeping, volunteer story, tagged homeless, rough sleeping, training, volunteering on November 13, 2008|
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Catherine is a part time volunteer with Simon on the Streets. She takes part in the weekly soup run and also gets involved in some street outreach work. As a student who had moved to Leeds she first got involved with Simon because she had some spare time that she really wanted to put to good use. Her initial contact revealed that the Community is not an organisation that views people who are homeless as passive beings in an active world who need to have things done for them. The fact that Simon want to support people to do things for themselves is precisely what drew Catherine to us.
So why does she do it? To begin with it was simply the idea of wanting to support improvements in the lives of people with many complex needs. As time went on, although this would always be at the heart of why she volunteers, Catherine realised there were many different reasons to continue. “I enjoy the challenge of engaging with a client group that can be very difficult to work with” – this can range from trying to get a very quiet and depressed man who refuses to engage with anyone to simply share a few words in conversation as a very gentle beginning to an engagement process, to seeing behind the loud aggressive shouting and swearing of a very angry woman and getting to the root of the behaviour.
“It is also hugely satisfying to work in an organisation that is well respected; and not just by other agencies but also by the people who really matter – our service users! We strive to ensure that the person is put before the ‘piece of work’. Service users understand we see them and then their issues and not a set of problems that needs to be solved. Our method always allows the person to drive the work and decide on what is to be done, our role is to offer support in this”.
Part of Catherine’s interest in volunteering was to see if it was a field of work that she wanted to get into. Her time with the Community has helped her decide that it is. One of the reasons for this is, “the people we support are such fantastic individuals with great stories to tell who are often, once you get to know them, very good company.”
Catherine has now made the move forward and is soon to start working full time in a related field. “if you’re interested in this type of work as a career it’s great. All the time you’re volunteering you are gaining the training, knowledge, skills and experience that you need!”
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