Few people choose to be homeless and it is usually a downward spiral of events that lead them to this low point in their lives. Often those sleeping rough are not owed a duty by the local authority, meaning there is no obligation to house them.
Having experienced homelessness for himself, Darren Townsend has a natural empathy when it comes to helping people he meets who are sleeping rough in Solihull. He works as a Rough Sleeper Outreach Worker which puts him on the frontline of the homeless crisis.
Photo caption: Darren Townsend from SIAS Aquarius, with the 2016 Care Professional of the Year, Joanne MacKinnon.
Many of those Darren helps are first flagged up by concerned members of the public via the Streetlink website. He can help them to access services or benefits, accompany them to appointments, liaise with other agencies on their behalf and act as an intermediary if necessary.
His endeavours can genuinely turn people’s lives around – like Jim (not his real name) who became homeless after a relationship breakdown. Jim had suffered with depression all his adult life, but then a heroin habit led to shoplifting and eventually prison. He was sleeping rough after release from prison but Darren slowly increased his confidence and gained his trust over a number of months.
“If you didn’t have the people skills you wouldn’t be able to do this job,” says Darren. “When I meet someone for the first time to assess them, I’m very aware that they’re also assessing me so it’s important to gain their trust and show empathy.”
Now Jim has successfully completed a one-year tenancy and is due to be offered an assured tenancy. He has become a popular figure within his new community where he frequently helps local elderly residents with their shopping and taking the bins out. This remarkable transformation would not have been possible without Darren’s direct intervention, persistence and determination to help Jim turn a corner in his life.
Darren says it is great to feel recognised for the work he does and for a light to be shone on homelessness in Solihull. “Homelessness is a big issue nationally and is very complex but the system works well in Solihull as everyone works together. I’ve never won anything before so my award is in prime position on the mantlepiece and my Mum is very proud!”