Addiction, Health, Behaviour Change | CGL

An interview with Lesley - Manager of the Leeds Street Outreach Service

Lesley Howard

An interview with Lesley - Manager of the Leeds Street Outreach Service

18 April 2019

How does the Leeds Street Outreach service help people?

We work with anyone who is rough sleeping or begging in Leeds. Our outreach workers are out every day on the streets trying to engage with people and help them move away from a street-based lifestyle. Sometimes accommodation isn’t the primary issue - it might be substance misuse, mental health problems, physical health or domestic abuse. We can make sure people get the right support.  

We have specialist workers on the team too – two substance misuse workers from Forward Leeds, a mental health social worker, a mental health nurse and a prison inreach worker.

What does your role involve?

As the manager of the service I coordinate all the different outreach shifts and make sure the team are safe - we work in quite a high-risk environment. It’s also a strategic role, working with the local authority. I sit on some strategic meetings to discuss what’s going on in Leeds, what we are doing, what we need to have in place. I also visit other cities to see what we can learn from their teams.

How would you describe the team?

My team is so dedicated, their values are spot on and they support each other really well. You’ve got to when you’re working in this kind of environment. On a daily basis they can hear and see some quite traumatic things. To keep going back day after day - it’s tough.

I make sure my team know they can take as much time as they need. If you need to take an hour out of your week, if you’re having a hard day, just go. Go for a walk, do something to de-stress. Let me know you’re alright.

Last year we had a period of severe weather, meaning SWEP (severe weather emergency protocol) was in place for 10 consecutive days. When that happens the team are out every day and every night. We had a really small team back then and the weather was just horrendous. Not one member of the team rang in to say they couldn’t get into work. People walked from home, they just found a way to get in. We were all walking around with rucksacks and flasks of hot chocolate, out in the snow and the blizzards, checking on people’s safety. That’s dedication. You’re working with people who could potentially die on the streets, so you get out there and do everything you can. I was just so proud of them.

How did you get into this kind of work?

I was homeless when I was 16, sofa surfing then eventually I got into a bedsit. I had my daughter when I was 19 and I thought ‘right, I need to do something’. So I went to college and studied social care. My placement was in a homeless hostel in Leeds. As soon as I started there I just knew, this was what I wanted to do, this was what I was always meant to do.

I’ve been working for Change Grow Live for nearly 13 years now and it feels like a family. We’re really lucky.

What do you enjoy about working for the service?

I love it when we have some good outcomes, it’s a fantastic sense of achievement. To work with someone that’s been really entrenched in a certain lifestyle, and all work together to help them.

As I work at a strategic level with the local authority I’m fortunate to have a certain influence. For example, we managed to get funding for five extra team members last year, which was fantastic. The council will listen to us because we’re out on the frontline every day.

I feel like I’ve got a voice, I can represent people rough sleeping in Leeds. I can explain what we need.

How do you encourage people to access support?

I say I’m here to work for you, I’m here to contact people and work on your behalf. It’s about saying in a gentle way - we’re here to help you, whatever you need. We can wait until you’re ready, we’ll keep coming back. We get to meet some really interesting and lovely people on the streets.