As part of a Scrutiny Inquiry I am going to be carrying out on behalf of the Council I wanted to see at first hand the work that the Street Outreach team do in the city helping the rough sleepers and the homeless. In this respect this morning Cllr. Caroline Anderson and I spent some time accompanying 2 Street Outreach workers walking round the city centre from end to end and top to bottom speaking to all the rough sleepers. We started at 5.30am, with the temperature at 2 degrees, in Briggate and finished with a visit to a homeless breakfast club at 8am in York Street where people can keep warm from 6.30am with tea and toast and access to hot showers and clothes washing facilities, phone charging, computer etc., as well as having access to a nurse and a GP. It was an eye opening experience but extremely worthwhile.
Over the coming two months it is going to be very cold for anyone sleeping out. The one thing that did come across was not hunger it was the cold. There are a lot of places that give out food and shelter if people want it, but if they stay on the street it’s the cold. Thankfully we do not have many rough sleepers or homeless people in Leeds, however I would acknowledge that one is one too many. Their circumstances varied but there didn’t seem to be a big issue with drugs as is often portrayed by some sectors. Family breakdown and loss of connectivity with family and friends is an issue. The Outreach team are there to help them get back on their feet, to point them to housing options, medical facilities and claiming any benefits they may be entitled to. They know most of the rough sleepers and have a good relationship with them as they have built up a lot of trust.
The first man we met was so glad to see us (the Outreach workers carry flasks of coffee, paper cups, biscuits and hand warmers that they can offer – this is to try and engage with people in the first instance) and was keen to get help and he was really pleased to find the breakfast club now opened at 6.30am 6 days a week. The Street Outreach workers we were with were so good with the people we spoke to. It was all very calm and concentrated at that time of day with their welfare. During the day there are other needs that they will concentrate on such as making sure they keep appointments for benefits and probation services etc. They often go with them to the appointments if necessary or get one of the other groups that support them to attend with them. Some of these agencies also go out with the Outreach workers regularly as part of the team.
We are both glad we had this experience as it was very rewarding and unlike anything we’ve done before.