Written by Sophie Okonkwo
This April we welcome ‘Simon on the Streets’ as our Community Partner of the month. Every month the Students Union picks one of the many awesome charities it works with to honour and promote their hard work. Homelessness is a prevalent issue here in Leeds and one that causes much controversy. Simon on the Streets works with those that are homeless and consequently forced to sleep rough. These people often have complex problems and therefore do not have access to mainstream services. The charity seeks to help these individuals and in turn give them a brighter future, off the streets. Simon on the Streets aims to provide a service through building strong relationships with those that require the help and emotional support. As the charity is an independent outreach based programme, service users are not expected to adhere to strict rules. This is good for those who have issues with authority/structure, common problems and reasons why people cannot work with and get help from, other agencies.
Simon on the Streets staff help people discover aspirations and give unlimited opportunities in order to achieve viable positive change and the charity understand that such issues can take time to solve, and it often isn’t easy. The patience and positive attitude of the individual staff over at Simon on the Streets is a reflection on the overall charity and its goal.
Simon on the Streets acknowledges, remembers and engages those that have been forgotten.
Simon on the Streets support workers spend on average around 900 hours on the streets and are in supportive contact with over 50 people each month. Offering intensive support to 15 people each month, opening a number of different doors for the client and motivating them towards positive change. Around 100 of these changes will become measurable, signifying steps to overcoming the challenges that many face.
I was fortunate to speak with Aissa Gallie, the development manager of Simon on the Streets, who told me more about the scheme;
How did Simon on the Streets begin?
“It began in 2001, evolving from the ‘Simon Community’, which shared our ethos of unconditional support. However, a select group of people, who even with the ethos of the charity were still excluded from support. So Simon on the Streets began to be a 100% outreach service. As an organisation we work to support people battling a number of needs and our work is done at street level, allowing us to truly engage with service users and have them engage with our services.”
Are there any particular inspiring Simon on the Streets stories that stand out to you?
“The way that we view success in our organisation differs from moment to moment and person to person. So spectrum evolves and at one end we find super success, for example one of our clients that worked with us for 5 years actually became a volunteer support worker and then operational manager. He now works in a higher position at another charity.
We then have the other end of the spectrum. We worked with a guy for 5 years and during the time nothing changed in lifestyle and behaviour. He remained a rough sleeper and heroine addict, but he had a relationship with his support worker. He shared with her, things concerning his past he had never shared before. Unfortunately he passed away, but the main thing is that he was not alone. He was with his worker from Simon on the Streets. Before the charity he was isolated in the world, no next of kin and when he died he was not alone.
We believe the pieces of work done with both individuals were equally as powerful”
Can you tell me more about the ‘Sleep with Simon’ event?
“It’s an annual fundraising challenge to spend the night sleeping outdoors, taking place in Leeds and Huddersfield. We’re hoping to extend to Bradford. This event really gives people a sense of the vulnerability and isolation felt by our clients when they sleep rough. Last year in Leeds we had around 250 participants which was great! We’re hoping for more this year so check our site for details!”
What do you find rewarding about working there?
“To sum up, being part of an organisation that is unconditional in its support for very vulnerable people, like the two mentioned in the stories. A lot of our clients are written off by society and as an organisation we are completely non-judgemental and I find it very rewarding to open my arms to these people”
How can you get involved with Simon on the Streets and what kind of people are you looking for?
“Well there is a community open day on May 14th at the Old Flax Store, Marshall Street (LS11, 9YJ) from 12-5pm. Where people are free to come and learn more about issues around homeless and sign up for volunteering roles, including new community ambassador roles. As well as this you can simply visit the website.
We are looking for the obvious, motivated, patient people who are interested in helping the homeless or learning more about the homelessness issue.”
What important skills do you gain from working here?
“Well there are so many different skills to gain and ways to work!
On an emotional level an important thing that you learn is a deeper sense of empathy for other people and that in turn develops open mindedness and flexible thinking. It also definitely makes you more grateful for what’s occurring in your own life.
On a work based level you can learn with us key skills such as; communication, organisation, teamwork, presentation etc. The list goes on!”
Who should students contact if they are interested in joining the team?
Please contact the Students Union Volunteering Team at email@example.com
Telephone Number: 0113 81 28456