Building a rapport with some of the city’s most entrenched rough sleepers and beggars is crucial to the work Kim Kaur does through alcohol and drugs service Forward Leeds.
The chaotic lives clients often lead on the streets and their past experiences can make it hard to persuade them to engage with support services at the best of times – and that becomes harder still if they are escaping into the ‘spice cloud’.
As our week-long series on spice continues, we take a look today at how complex case worker Kim and others in the city are pulling together to combat the drug’s impact and the wider challenges faced by street users.
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“You have to build a rapport and a really good relationship with the clients,” she said. “The spice users are probably the most hard-to-reach.
“For a lot of people who are using spice, they call it a ‘spice cloud’ because it lets them forget about a lot of the issues they’re having to go through. It’s years and years of stuff that’s happened in their lives. I think that spice bubble protects them from facing reality.”
They might have experienced a relationship breakdown, lost their job or home, have physical or mental health issues, or have a long history of substance abuse.
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Kim will be working with lots of different people – each with their own story – at any one time but it is nothing like the appointment systems most services would use.
Instead, she teams up with Leeds Street Outreach Service (SOS) on their early morning and late night sweeps at least once a week and spends the majority of her time out on the street talking to people.
She might devote an entire day to one person if they suddenly start to engage and, crucially, she can make comprehensive assessments on the spot if they show an interest in entering a treatment programme.
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“I’ve had people come to me and ask for support because their health is deteriorating,” Kim said. “They’re wanting signposting into treatment or detox, but because of the chaos of their life and getting involved in street-based activity it’s a challenge for them to enter programmes.”
Other days it might simply be about checking in to say hello to people who are out on the streets and show that she will keep coming back to offer that support.
Kim said: “A lot of them have either dropped out of services or are finding it difficult to re-engage due to structural barriers of mainstream services – ‘you have to do this in order to get this’.
“We do break down a lot of those barriers, advocate and support. We encourage them to make changes.”
This might mean helping someone to get a birth certificate so they can open a basic bank account with a credit union and start to receive benefits, or it could be getting them registered with a doctor so that they can receive treatment for physical or mental health issues.
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“It’s for us to get the support to those clients,” Kim said. “It’s hand-holding, but I’m not there to do it all for them – and it’s not about my priorities, it’s theirs.”
While still employed by Forward Leeds, Kim is now also one of a number of specialist workers from across a range of disciplines who have joined the Street Support Team recently formed by community safety partnership Safer Leeds.
She is optimistic that this dedicated team can make a real impact on not only with those using spice but also with the many other vulnerable people out on the streets.
She said: “I’ve noticed that the spice use has grown but I also think that with the Street Support Team, Leeds SOS and all the other organisations collaboratively working together, there’s a better chance for people to get better support.”