BQ editor Mike Hughes hears from Aissa Gallie how Leeds businesses are helping the homeless.
The juxtaposition is undeniably striking. Fine food, laughter and enjoyment in splendid surroundings with successful business leaders... next to the most severely challenged victims of social deprivation. In many places, the former would literally cross the road to avoid the latter, but not in Yorkshire.
Here Aissa Gallie knows this is a good news story. As development manager for homelessness charity Simon on the Streets, she is constantly searching for supporters to help throw the next lifeline to an organisation which has always got more work than it can handle.
They have been helped on many occasions by Yorkshire Mafia, and are one of the charities which will benefit from Leeds Business Week. As well as taking part in events, the organisation will receive the proceeds of a ‘Come Dine with Simon’ competition hosted and supported by The Novotel, which pitches two West Yorkshire businesses against each other in a cook off for a group of very brave paying guests.
For the last 15 years, as Aissa explains, SOTS has helped those in Leeds, Bradford and Huddersfield that almost everyone has crossed the road to avoid. “We work with people who have multiple and complex needs who aren’t receiving meaningful support elsewhere. They will have issues around addiction, mental health and alcoholism. When you have all those things together, the odds are you will be rough sleeping or at least at risk of it.
“We have the resources to work with around 100 people across the region, but we do not meet the full need because the numbers in Leeds are growing. We are an independent charity, so we do not take any government funding.
“But that is completely deliberate because we want to be able to offer unlimited opportunities to change and funding often has a set target to achieve and some people just don’t fit into that.
“They might need a year of support to build up a relationship, or we might help someone for five or ten years to take those big steps forward, because at the root of their problems there is often a childhood trauma that has remained unresolved and has been a trigger and the start of a downward spiral and a very chaotic lifestyle.
The work of Simon on the Streets, whose name is taken from Simon of Cyrene, who walked alongside Jesus as he carried his cross, is necessarily confrontational. That is its job out on the dark, wet and threatening streets, but Aissa says Leeds businesses appreciate that role and are helping people make the changes they need.
“We simply wouldn’t exist without the help we get from Leeds businesses. We used to get the majority of our income from trusts and foundations, but as Government funding has affected them, last year we only got 18 per cent from them. The rest is private donations and events and we are absolutely indebted to Leeds businesses.
“Yorkshire Mafia has been the key relationship that has kept SOTS afloat over the last couple of years. In the future, we would at least like to be able to meet the need here and in Bradford and Huddersfield. But we also want to influence the work done at higher levels so that needs are met.”
This eloquent woman is a champion of a largely forgotten group of people wandering our streets. I am sure that at some stage in their lives it would have been inconceivable to them that things would go so badly wrong. Just as inconceivable as the idea would be to anyone taking part in Leeds Business Week.
But a common thread here is relationships. The business ones that make up Yorkshire Mafia and LBW can make possible the lifesaving ones happening just around the corner every night. That’s the power of business.