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News / City Life

Quit your job, become an... outreach worker

© Rob Greig

 

Melanie Graham, 40, street outreach coordinator at The Connection at St Martin's

What's an average day like for you?

'Every day is different. I can't say that I'm ever bored. I do shifts that are either early or late and involve going out and engaging with rough sleepers. Our team covers the whole of Westminster and sometimes we'll be walking for four or five hours. It's really good exercise, but it gives you sore feet.'

That sounds knackering…

'Shifts can take a toll on your body, especially if you're alternating between lates and earlies. You have to get used to finishing at 5am; it's like being jetlagged.'

How did you get into this work?

'I started in rolling shelters [which pop up in empty buildings] as a project worker. Then I became a senior project worker before moving into an outreach team, and finally going for a coordinator post.'

What does helping the homeless involve?

'I assess them, offer support or services, and let them know that there are groups they can attend. The Connection runs Work Space which helps people with their CVs and job applications, as well as providing travel fares and smart clothing. There are also art workshops, AA meetings and a rough sleepers group for people who don't want to talk about housing but need to.'

You advise the public against giving money to the homeless. Why?

'If you give money to people on the street and they're drug users or drinkers, it's likely that's what they'll spend the money on. It's not helping them get out of their situation, whereas outreach workers are, so you should donate instead to homelessness organisations. Also, if people are being supplied bedding, they're less likely to consider leaving that lifestyle because they have all the tools they need to remain there. It's a bit like tough love, but it works.'

Does your job require a heart of steel?

'It takes time to build a bit of resilience without losing empathy, but with experience it gets easier.'

Hours: 35hrs p/w

Starting salary: £32k p/a

Qualifications: No formal qualifications necessary

Or why not become a sommelier?

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