Cyrenians outreach project marks one year of helping homeless people

Homelessness charity Cyrenians is marking the one year anniversary of its Homeless Navigator Project.

The project provides advice and support to people sleeping rough in and around Edinburgh city as part of the charity’s work towards bringing an end to homelessness. In just twelve months, the project has been able to help dozens of people.

Cyrenians homeless navigator Nick Harrold said: “I see the person before I see the problem. Our job is not to do things for people but to help them do things for themselves.”

Funded by Comic Relief and Essential Edinburgh, the key to the project’s success is that it offers peer support delivered by someone who has experienced homelessness themselves. Nick, who has 25 years’ experience working with vulnerable people, takes to the streets of Edinburgh several times a week alongside his colleague whose own experience of sleeping rough gives the service a unique advantage.

“What makes us different is the combination of my networks and understanding of the way official systems work with his knowledge of the streets and personal connections. Folk open up to him much quicker than they would if it was just me,” explained Nick, who says that his two-person team also liaises with other specialist agencies including the Bethany Christian Trust, the Community Police Team and Access Point.

The people they help range in age from 18 to their 70s, said Nick, who goes out to the places where homeless people congregate – graveyards, alleyways or anywhere they can find shelter. “We try not to keep to set times,” he explained, “We have to be flexible because people’s lives are chaotic. You can’t have a one size fits all in this field as square pegs won’t go into round holes.”

Case study

A year ago Dave was sleeping on the streets and self-medicating to cope. With severe mental health issues, he spent his nights sleeping in the children’s playground in Princes Street Gardens and his days roaming the streets. Still in his early 20s, Dave had lost his job as a result of his mental health, and severe social anxiety prevented him from accessing support services.

He met Cyrenians’ homeless navigator Nick Harrold at Social Bite and Nick put Dave in touch with the housing department. “He had been in work,” explained Nick. “But he hadn’t been able to keep it because of his mental health issues. The good thing was that he’d kept his pay slips.”

Nick was able to guide Dave through the housing application process, something that he has tried to do by himself but had found too overwhelming. A week later Dave was living in temporary accommodation and within a month he had a permanent place to live.

Sometimes the team will take weeks to build up trust so that they can start to offer support – advice on how to access benefits, use health services or apply for housing. At other times, a one-off intervention will be enough to help someone rebuild their lives.

“There will be times that we lose touch with people or we can’t find them because they’ve moved on or end up in prison,” added Nick. “But there are plenty of times when we can make a real difference.”

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