My experience as an Outreach Volunteer
We first met Chris when he was sleeping rough and needed help from us. After volunteering with us as an Outreach Volunteer in our Bournemouth & Poole Service, he now works full time for St Mungo’s.
Chris has gone from strength to strength, and we wanted to share his story below.
“As I was a client of St. Mungo’s, I used the pathways they provide to become a volunteer in the Outreach team in the Bournemouth & Poole branch. As soon as I got back on my feet, I wanted to give something back to St. Mungo’s as a thank you for all the support they have given me.
As Outreach Volunteers, we start in the early mornings. Firstly, we will pick up and answer phone messages and any referrals from StreetLink, then we will hit the streets to search for people who are sleeping rough.
Some days can be quiet and you won’t see any people, other days you might be in contact with 10 rough sleepers. No day is the same on the Outreach team. After we’ve been on the streets, we go back to the office and type up our notes from the shift onto our database system, Opal.
I believe that as a volunteer with lived experience of rough sleeping, my experience has helped the Outreach team by giving them knowledge into how rough sleepers interact with the general public and authorities. I feel that my role also has a positive impact on the staff’s sense of self worth. It’s an intense and emotional job and it can feel like there are a lot of failures. However, there are also many successes and when that does happen, I try and shout about them, so that they know that they’re doing a stellar job.
The initial challenge as an Outreach Volunteer is the engagement with the people we meet on the street because some of them might have trust issues with authorities. Another challenge is encouraging the clients into getting the help that they need. I empathise with this since I had my own trust issues when I was on the streets.
One time I was on a winter shift with the Outreach team, it was freezing cold, and we were trying to contact a man who had buried himself deeply into a shelter he had built himself. He wasn’t engaging with us. We carried on for a while, buying him coffees and trying to chat to him, but to no avail. He had said to us ‘go away, nobody cares.’ This is when I stepped in and told him that I understood his feelings and I then said ‘…but it’s 4 o’clock in the morning, it’s freezing cold and I’m a volunteer, of course I care otherwise I wouldn’t be here! All we want is to just do a welfare check. So, please just show us your face, tell us who you are, and tell us that you’re ok.’ After I said this, he finally trusted us and allowed us to do a welfare check which almost brought a tear to my eye! This experience will stick with me forever.
The rewards of the Outreach Volunteer role are seeing that I have helped someone in some way take their first steps out of homelessness. When I first find somebody, they think there’s no hope, but we take them on to other St. Mungo’s services and we give them that little bit of hope to start rebuilding their lives. That’s the only reward I need.
This volunteer role has massively improved my sense of self-worth and has given me purpose…so much so that I applied for a full time Outreach role, and I got it!
I have felt supported by the whole of St Mungo’s 100%. I can be shy in some ways, but they have made me feel so welcomed and comfortable in the office.
The volunteer services team have supported me through everything and have always been there to answer any questions, even if it’s as simple as asking which button I press! I’m also impressed by all of the courses and training that St. Mungo’s provide for their volunteers.
If you want to volunteer you need to be open minded, and be prepared for failure (you can’t help the world!). Don’t beat yourself up about it and don’t take things personally – a lot of people sleeping rough have a bad history with authorities and may have trust issues.
My advice for those currently supported by St Mungo’s looking to volunteer is firstly, make sure you can take on this responsibility and make sure you’re putting yourself first. If you’re only just at the beginning of your pathway, I don’t think volunteering is for you…yet! Keep working on yourself and your surroundings first and when you’re firmly on your feet, sign up to volunteer.
My dream was to become a full-time Outreach Worker for St. Mungo’s…and I got it! So, my hopes for the future, is to be the best ground level outreach worker I can be. If there are 10 levels of being an Outreach Worker, I want to be 11.”