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‘Is he okay?’ – A Day in the Life of our HIV Street Support Team

Our HIV Street Support Team work with people who are risk of or living with HIV, homeless or in temporary accommodation in Glasgow. The following blog piece is by David Findlay, HIV Outreach Support Coordinator. David gives us an insight into what it’s like working in the Street Support Team, beginning to shine a light on some of the challenges people who are homeless and made vulnerable through poverty face every day. This is part one of a series exploring the work of our HIV Street Support Service.

It’s Friday and it’s one of our outreach days. I drop my car off and arrive at West St. to start my day. I think I’ll walk the 2 miles up through the city centre to our office at Queens Crescent. This gives me the chance to say ‘hello’ to some people we’re trying to build relationships with. Turns out the city centre is pretty quiet this morning. There are only a few people visible on the street so far.

I make my way along to Central Station. As I approach Gordon St. I see a guy I don’t recognise lying on the ground in a sleeping bag. My first thoughts when I see someone in this position is that I hope they’re sleeping and it’s nothing more serious. My second thought is to check and make sure I have my naloxone on me – you never know when you might need to use it.

I’m hoping he’s sleeping though, and I never want to wake someone up or disturb them unless it’s absolutely necessary. They might have been up all night on the streets so if they need to sleep they should be left to rest. So I stand back from him and try to get some indication to see whether he’s breathing. I can’t help but notice that in the short time I’m standing there, so many people are walking past without noticing he’s there. I’ve worked in the addiction field for a long time but I can understand why people do it – you can feel pretty helpless. There was a time I would have walked passed him too. Now, I wouldn’t walk past anyone like this without checking on them – you never know what someone’s going through or what’s happening to them when they’re on the street. And our job is to care for people who might otherwise be invisible.

For a second, Matthew Bloomer’s name flashes into my mind. Matthew was a 28-year-old man, a young father sleeping rough in Glasgow city centre. Matthew was made vulnerable through poverty, homelessness and mental health – much like the people I work with every day, or the guy I’m watching to see whether he’s alright. But Matthew froze to death overnight on Argyle St. in 2017. He didn’t get another chance, or support. I’m glad our team’s here now to help prevent this from happening again.

Anyway, as I watched I could see the guys sleeping bag rising and falling, showing me that he’s breathing so my immediate concerns were put to rest. I left him to sleep and continued my walk to the office. The streets were still quiet so I’ll come back to the city centre this afternoon and see if I can speak with him then now that I know where he is. Sometimes all we can do is check in on people, but if that helps prevent harm then that’s enough in itself.

Thank you to the National Lottery Community Fund, without your support the work of our HIV Street Support Team would not be possible.

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