A new approach to helping vulnerable people on the city’s streets is already making a difference say outreach workers.
West Yorkshire Police, Leeds City Council, housing, mental health, social workers and the various outreach groups working in the city have launched a Street Support Team which has a more joined up and long term problem solving approach to dealing with rough sleepers, begging and anti-social and criminal behaviour.
The agencies and services have put staff forward to join a single team which meets every day to discuss individuals, hotspots and trends and what is the best way to help them there and then rather than referring them for future appointments.
Paul Money, the chief officer for Safer Leeds said: “This is not a single agency issue - it genuinely is not. These are individuals who think it is more normal to be on the streets than it is abnormal and are dealing with more-often substance misuse, alcohol or significant mental health issues.
“In the past they have been signposted to agencies which is okay for me or you but not for people with significant issues. This will deal with them on the street rather than saying ‘go to an office for an appointment’.
“They don’t go. Heroin, crack, spice - that is the most important thing to them and they will stay on the street for that.
“We have evidence that we have engaged with someone at 11am, prioritised a doctor’s appointment for them at 1pm 500 yards away but they didn’t go because they were more interested in their spice addiction. “This is about holding their hand to help them secure the support they need on an individual by individual basis.”
Away from the street there are other team members compiling information coming from the police, council departments and outreach agencies which is being transferred onto a database featuring information such as regulars on the streets, any new faces, what issues they have and need help with as well as changing trends.
For example already in the short time that Street Support has been operating, Greek Street has been identified as a hotspot for mobile begging and so teams can focus their daily patrols, which starts at 5.30am and go on as late as 2am, in that area.
The council estimates there are 200 street users in Leeds.
Just getting someone who stays on the streets to a breakfast club can be a milestone for the city’s outreach workers.
They have been working with a woman fleeing domestic violence, spending months gaining her trust before she let them help her and now the Street Support arrangements mean they can get her the support she needs faster.
Leslie Howard, project manager for Leeds Street Outreach, says her prayers have been answered with the formation of the new service.
“We have been saying for a long time we need housing, health, addiction and domestic violence workers to come out with us. We don’t need to refer anyone now as that help is there with us.”
However, it hasn’t always been like this with sometimes drastic consequences.
She recalls: “The hardest thing is mental health cases. There was a man in the city centre and we watched him deteriorate. We contacted other services but they said it was drug induced. We spent a whole day trying to get him detained because he was a risk to himself and others and it didn’t happen until there was an incident - then he was detained. We should not have had to wait until he was so unwell but that won’t happen now as we have a worker who can make that call.”
In another case where a street user might be going to prison there are already plans for help in jail and housing for when he is released.