Me&MyJob: Open mindedness is key in this field
Sharon Magorrian, team leader for the Simon Community Northern Ireland freephone helpline
What does your role involve?
I am the team leader for the Simon Community Northern Ireland freephone helpline, which means I oversee the running of the freephone and support staff to provide an excellent service.
My first job in the morning is to meet with the team and get a handover on any issues arising from the previous night. The team then contact the various projects throughout Northern Ireland to identify the availability of beds in all our projects. This enables us to plan the day ahead.
This time of day is usually busiest for the helpline as other professionals begin work at this time and start to call the service with referrals or with enquiries.
We update the Homeless NI website and contact the Northern Ireland Housing Executive with all of our vacancies as they appear.
Whatever service we are providing an individual or a family, we will be working with that person or family to best meet their needs.
As a team we also deal with a large variety of general enquires on all aspects of advice on homelessness — in most cases the freephone number is the first contact for people needing advice, assistance or signposting.
How did you get into the position in the first place?
I was team leader in the Simon Community NI accommodation project in Newry. When Simon Community NI launched the freephone service, I was offered a job within it as I had worked in this environment for Glasgow City Council. My job title within Glasgow City Council was Homeless Case Worker.
Did you always want to work in this sector in some capacity or another?
Yes, this was part of my career ambition. Part of my reason for moving to Glasgow was to gain real life experience in working in the homeless sector, to enable me to come back home to Northern Ireland and put that experience into practice.
What training or previous work experience do you have that has helped you in your current role?
My previous experience in Glasgow City Council was invaluable; I learnt a lot in relation to mental health, crisis intervention and domestic violence issues.
What is your organisation's role in the local community?
The freephone team work over a 24-hour period — the freephone service is one of the services that mean the Simon Community can strengthen communities and lead the way in addressing homelessness in Northern Ireland.
The majority of our calls are from people who are in crisis. We assess every person on an individual basis, and we ensure that everyone calling the freephone has the chance to talk to staff about their issues and to discuss their needs.
And how does your role fit in as part of this?
As team leader, I provide flexible support to my team.
I am also responsible for ensuring that we build strong working links with all other organisations working in homelessness in Northern Ireland. We have built strong links and partnerships with many other organisations; we receive referrals throughout the day from a variety of professionals such as the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, health care professionals, social workers, probation officers, Police Service Northern Ireland, Citizens’ Advice Bureau and other charities and organisations working with people who are homeless.
As part of the wider team in Simon Community NI, I am responsible for linking the freephone service with other services at Simon Community NI, such as the Harm Reduction service and the Homeless Prevention service.
What sort of personality and qualities do you need to do your job successfully?
You need to be friendly, approachable, understanding and empathetic. We speak to lots of different people on the phone each day and it is important that we make the phone call as comfortable as it can be for the caller.
What are the biggest rewards of the job? And the biggest challenges?
Working for Simon Community NI is an extremely rewarding role, as on a daily basis we are helping people in crisis and also helping them to move out of homelessness. I find it really rewarding working with an inspirational group of people.
Being part of the network of organisations working in the homeless sector allows me the opportunity within the Simon Community NI to help to shape the future of homeless services and work towards our goal of a vision of ending homelessness.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
Treat everyone as you would like to be treated yourself.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do the same job?
Exactly the same advice — be open minded and treat everyone as you would like to be treated yourself.
What do you enjoy doing outside work?
I enjoy socialising, reading and Zumba classes.
If you are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, or if you know someone who is homeless please call 0800 171 2222. For further information and to stay updated with Simon Community NI, click www.simoncommunity.org, find and like ‘Simon Community Northern Ireland’ on Facebook or follow ‘@SimonCommunitNI’ on Twitter