Two new outreach support workers, Laura and Mags, joined Hightown in January.
They’re both based at our Open Door nightshelter in St Albans but will be out and about working with people on the streets, including rough sleepers and street drinkers.
Mags and Laura gave us an insight into the challenges of working with these client groups and what can be done to help those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged.
Mags has supported people facing homelessness and dealing with drug and alcohol abuse for many years. She’s managed hostels and services in London and worked in floating support.
Laura started out in teaching but later moved into supported housing. She’s managed a hostel for homeless people and has worked for lots of Hightown’s local partners, such as Herts Young Homeless and Watford New Hope Trust.
Tell us about what you’ll be doing:
M - “I will be focusing on rough sleepers with very complex backgrounds, including those with no recourse to public funds, whose immigration status has changed or people with histories of offending.
“As other services tighten their criteria, this client group are finding fewer places to go and it will take a creative approach to find solutions for them.”
L - “My clients might already be housed or accessing Open Door and other services but still need support with their addictions. I’ll target those committing prolific anti-social behaviour and struggling with severe addictions.
“I aim to encourage drinkers to disperse and not to engage in anti-social behaviour. The aim is to avoid enforcement, as there are many high profile cases where criminal enforcement has not worked.
“My role is about minimising harm: harm individuals are doing to themselves and their community. “
What challenges do you face?
M – “The entrenched behaviour in our client group. Most people struggle with change but this is magnified in those I work with. For those struggling with their immigration status, it is very difficult. They see this country as their home and life on the streets here might be better than where they came from.”
L – “The nature of addiction. In my experience, addictions are rarely about the thing you’re addicted to. It’s not about liking alcohol or being bored. It’s about changing how you feel about yourself.
“We need to work with people to address those feelings and help them break out of negative behaviour routines. They need to be able to feel happy without alcohol.”
What sort of things help the people you work with?
L – “I can offer a two-pronged approach: it’s consistency, being there for people over a long period, and it’s about having hope for them.
“We can build different relationships to other agencies because people don’t associate us with enforcement. We have no expectations of them and we can go in softly, get to know them, spend time with them and take a person-centred approach."
M – “Working with people consistently does make a big difference. These people have often been let down, sometimes even by professionals, so it’s really important that we follow through on our promises and recognise even the smallest changes.
"Sometimes people think they’re worthless and we need to show them that they’re not.”
Why do you think it’s important to address these issues in St Albans?
M – “Lots are coming to St Albans from London. There’s lots of competition for space and hostels are getting busy. St Albans is only a short train journey away, plus it’s a nice area.”
L – “There are strong networks in St Albans of people who want to help but sometimes the public don’t always realise the wider implications. For us, it is about harnessing that goodwill and applying our professional knowledge to get the right outcome for the people we’re supporting.”
Why did you go for this role?
L – “This issue is very close to my heart. Plus, I’m local. I’ve lived in St Albans most of my life and I recognise some of these people. I can see the impact this behaviour has on them and I want to help people to address their drinking.”
M – “I lived abroad for a while and thought I’d left the sector. But I missed being able to make a difference. I like enabling people, even if it is just a small thing; it’s worth it to see someone change and get a better life.”