Now it is 10am and we’re heading out onto the streets of Liverpool City Centre. Despite their early start, Lisa and Paulene are still full of energy and clearly passionate about the work they do. Together they have a combined twenty-five years of experience helping homeless people through various different stages of their route to independent living. It’s this expertise and insight that makes them perfect for Street Outreach work. Lisa tells me that Street Outreach is often the first experience a homeless person will have of the Whitechapel Centre and whether it goes well or not will often influence how likely they are to trust the charity and use our services.
It does take time, they say, to build up trust with people who have often had their trust abused in some way in the past. It’s a ‘slow burn’ and sometimes it can take months, or even years, just to establish a relationship. But Paulene and Lisa don’t give up. ‘People eventually warm to that consistency…and that means the communication is there, you can check they’re OK. They realise they can trust you.’
And that’s the job of the Street Outreach Team, who not only try to ensure that those who are new to the streets are immediately given whatever support they need, including, most importantly, somewhere to sleep, but also to reach those who are what they term ‘entrenched homeless’. This means the people who are the very hardest to reach, have been on the streets for a long period of time and have become used to this way and are wary about giving it up for something new they don’t know.
As we walk into the city centre I ask about how their day works. They tell me they know everyone and will go see everyone who is out. They see some people every day, to say hello, build a relationship and eventually help them access the support they need either through the Whitechapel Centre itself or through partner organisations. ‘There is a lot of undiagnosed mental health issues out there’ in that case they work with a partner organisation to make an assessment and offer help. They will also help them with welfare benefit issues, drug treatment and recovery services and access to specialised medical care – as quite often issues, such as trench foot or dental problems, have become far worse for lack of treatment.
We have walked a full loop of the city centre, stopping to make sure people are OK, offer them support, let them know the help is there when they’re ready. I ask what the best part of the job is, and they tell me it’s the small things: getting someone to finally accept a shower and some food at the day centre; getting someone to at least go and look at a hostel, supported accommodation or the night hub; the times when, finally, a person doesn’t shout at them but instead accepts a cup of tea and is willing to just talk about the weather. That moment when someone agrees to go to the specialist drop-in doctor with them.
It can be slow progress but it’s life changing progress because the change is so much more likely to be lasting if they’ve made those decisions themselves with our Outreach Team there to support them. Paulene and Lisa are experienced enough to understand this, they clearly care deeply about their jobs and about helping everyone who they encounter, ‘We’ll never stop offering help’ says Lisa, ‘We never give up on anyone.’
Back at Labre House, the night shelter which is being prepared for the evening, Lisa and Paulene dry off. I ask them if they’ll have a lunchbreak now and Paulene says, ‘I never take a lunchbreak. Why would I do that? I could be out helping people.’