Who do we work with?
We work with people who are rough-sleepers, have a history of rough-sleeping or are in danger of becoming rough-sleepers and also have complex support needs. We prioritise those who are long term rough-sleepers who cannot or will not access other support. Although there are a relatively small number of people (known to be) sleeping rough at any one time the numbers of people who fit into the above group is much larger (well in excess of 100). The fact that we are working in-depth with only a handful of people who are predominantly sleeping rough can be seen to demonstrate the success of our approach.
The nature of the intensity of the work needed to support these individuals and the fact that they cannot be simply supported out of sleeping rough but need ongoing intensive support to have any chance of making positive changes in life and maintaining their position means there are far greater numbers of people in need of our support than the number rough-sleeping at any one time. It is also worthy of note that more people are falling into the above group than are moving out of it, so although rough-sleeper numbers appear to be falling the numbers of people in need of intensive support are rising.
The nature of rough-sleeping in Leeds has changed over the last few years; rough-sleeper figures are not representing the same people night after night, month after month. Official statistics represent a snap-shot in specific areas of public space. Our monthly statistics represent the accommodation status of our in-depth clients for the majority of the month. So we might well report an individual as being in temporary accommodation when in actual fact they have been sleeping on friends’ floors all month which left them sleeping-rough for several nights. So numbers that exist will always minimise the true picture of how many people are actually sleeping rough – there might only be five people sleeping rough each night but if they are a different five people that could be as many as 150 people a month (in the most extreme possible case) whose lives’ are impacted upon as a direct result of rough-sleeping.
What makes us different?
- A focus on those who don’t get a service from other agencies
Specifically targeting those who do not get a service elsewhere has to be a major point in defining our difference and the usefulness of that difference. Key to this is our (almost) entirely outreach based working practices which break down barriers and negates the need for many rules and restrictions on service users resulting in a much more user friendly service especially for those who have problems with authority (which is a major reason for individuals being excluded from other agencies). The fact that we do not discriminate against those who could get a service elsewhere is another important point. Supporting those who refuse a service until they are willing to accept it is just as important (or maybe even more so) as supporting those who have been excluded to overcome their restrictions.
- Emotional support for it’s own sake (and the knock on effects)
Everybody who is (has) rough-sleeping has got to a point where they feel there is no-one (or there is actually no-one) they can turn to. This point is true whether or not the individual could be held responsible for this situation. We provide a vital role of being someone (as an organisation not individually) who they can turn to. We are a group of people who will show interest in them in a respectful, tolerant, empathetic manner aimed at empowering them to improve their self image and begin to think about making positive changes in their lives, but ask for nothing in return.
It is worthy of mention that no other organisation sets out to do this with our client group. For many people this kind of relationship that centres on them, their thoughts and desires, their aspirations, their regrets is key to the kind of self reflection that is necessary before any kind behaviour change will have any real chance of success!
- Early interventions that are not focused on time so that patience and persistence can be used.
We have no funder who is imposing a time restriction on our working patterns with our service users. This is fundamental to successful work. For some individuals the process of achieving meaningful engagement can take a few months. For many organisations this can seem like wasted time as targets will get missed so effort is better spent on those who will achieve targets – for example if getting service users into housing is a target why work with the long term rough-sleeper who is notorious for not engaging with services when there are a few individuals who have relatively simple support needs who can be assisted into housing very quickly. We consider that long term rough-sleeper the priority and spend the necessary time forming the working relationship and put the goal of housing on hold until it is appropriate and achievable.
- Motivational work around accessing services
The above points with the correct skills, knowledge and experience put us in the ideal position to re-examine the relationships of service users and services that have not been useful in the past. We can, through a combination of good case work and good partnership work get service users ready to access the specialist support services they need and simultaneously get the service ready to accept the service user.
- Accompaniment work to encourage best outcomes
Our outreach working practices put us in an ideal position to accompany service users as they are accessing other services to try and ensure best outcomes. This can often be about having a good understanding of an individual and how they behave and so being able to intervene and de-escalate a situation before it becomes bad enough for the agency to withdraw the service. In many cases if the motivational work has been done well both worker and service user are well prepared and this will be a much lesser problem than expected.