Our Steph spoke to Open Up Magazine’s Deborah Grace about the work we do at Reach Out to the Community.
How did you get started?
Becky and I ran Elliott’s greengrocer’s together in Chorlton Precinct. We used to give veg to the chefs who were cooking up food to give out on the streets. Then the shop became a drop-off point and an unofficial drop-in, because all the lads who were sleeping rough would just come in to us. It became a bit overwhelming for the business and overtook what we were doing. We got involved with a group operating food runs around Manchester, then set up Reach Out with the specific aim of helping rough sleepers build a life away from the streets.
What do you do?
We help people to access basic services like health care, benefits, and getting their own tenancies. The money that comes in from the shop funds the project. We also have a volunteer who comes in to help with benefits advice. People can come in and charge their phones or get something to eat and drink. And just chat. We do weekly joint outreach with the City Council’s Rough Sleepers’ Team and Change, Grow, Live, a drug and alcohol service. Becky and I do the main support work, but we rely very much on our fantastic volunteers.
Do you ever get disheartened?
When we lost the first lad on the streets, about three-anda-half years ago, we were ready for giving it up. Then one of the support workers said to us, “You were there for the last three months of his life and you gave him so much comfort. You gave him the belief that people cared”. It makes you more determined to help; you want to get to people early. Because when people die on the streets it’s often from preventable illnesses – like sepsis or pneumonia. If they can access health care they won’t get to that point.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Just care about others and if you’re in the fortunate position to help people, then do that. It’s very easy to judge, but when you sit and listen to people’s stories you realise that there are so many complex reasons why people end up on the streets. Bereavement, leaving care, broken relationships, childhood trauma. And for a lot of people there is no support network. Drugs are obviously an issue on the streets. People with mental illness may self-medicate (the cuts in mental health services aren’t helping) and homeless people are an easy target for predatory drug dealers.
What makes you happy?
Walking my dogs – Jack Russells, Milly and Molly. Going on holiday with my partner. A good result at work. Sometimes, the little things – like getting someone to a doctor’s appointment – feel like a really great achievement. All the little things together lead to the big result at the end. That’s what we do. We do the little things that help set people up to move on.
© Open Up South Manchester magazine, January-February 2020.