An interview with Matt Wigley - Outreach Worker at West Yorkshire Street Outreach Service
Tell us about your background
When I was younger a friend of mine was made homeless through circumstances out of his control. I think that was the first time I became aware of the societal and individual social factors that affect someone’s life and can create challenges that impact their future prospects.
I did some volunteering at a homeless shelter, then went on to study Sociology and Psychology at University. I wrote my Master’s dissertation on homelessness in Leeds, while also doing some part-time jobs working with entrenched rough sleepers. After that I was fortunate to be able to put my learning and experience to good use, joining the Leeds Street Outreach service as an outreach worker. I’ve been working at the service for 18 months now.
What do you enjoy about the job?
Every day is different, I get to meet people from so many different backgrounds and hear their stories.
The best thing is getting to know someone and building up a trusting relationship with them, so you know that when they want to access support and when they’re ready, they’ve got somebody to turn to – I like being able to provide that for someone.
I also work with an amazing group of people, they’re all lovely and they bring so many different skill sets to the team. We support each other, it’s really nice being a part of that.
How would you describe your approach?
No matter how much you plan a day you usually end up doing something different, so I’m often problem-solving on the go.
I think I’m patient - I try to be understanding of someone’s situation and recognise they might be living in difficult circumstances. Some things that might easy for other people, like accessing housing support or healthcare, can be really daunting for the people we work with. It can be really anxiety-provoking dealing with the big elements of your life. As a result, people’s behaviour can be challenging and unpredictable but I try to respond without judgement and stand by their side throughout their experience.
What motivates you?
Since working for Change Grow Live I’ve become really aware of the importance of empowerment and being able to facilitate people taking control of their own situation in some way. It’s about walking alongside them rather than doing everything for them. The longer I’ve worked for Change Grow Live, the more I think that’s become my motivation.
It’s amazing to see people take control of their situation and regain power and strength within themselves so they can move forward without our support and live a much more fulfilling life.
Why is the service so important?
We are the only service with a full team dedicated to reaching people in their rough sleeping sites, wherever they might be begging or out in the community. Quite often we will continue to work with or attempt to engage someone when other services aren’t able to, because of risk or inconsistent engagement. We make every effort to manage that risk and will persist with offering our support.
Often people don’t feel comfortable going to a service and asking for support. It can be really daunting, especially if you have mental health problems or you’re using substances. There’s also a lot of shame and guilt associated with rough sleeping. So we go out and meet people in the place that they feel comfortable and build a relationship there.
When someone speaks to a member of our team that might be the first time they feel like someone cares and maybe they’ve got somebody in their life who they can trust. We recognise that building trust takes time - it might take six weeks or six months to establish a relationship with someone and things can fluctuate a lot within that time. Our role is to maintain a consistent approach and make sure people understand that the offer of support is always there. Hopefully just knowing that makes life a bit more manageable sometimes.