A SOCIAL worker specialising in helping rough sleepers and beggars to regain control of their lives has been shortlisted for a major national award.
Bhavna Maher, who works for Leicester City Council’s adult social care service, is responsible for helping people who are entrenched in street lifestyles and who don’t engage with existing services.
She works closely alongside Leicestershire Police, the health services, voluntary sector services and those involved in helping people with substance misuse problems, as well as working with the council’s housing, antisocial behaviour and neighbourhood teams to help those most in need.
With a scope that goes beyond regular social work she is able to support people who might not be able to access help via the usual routes.
The unique role has led to her being shortlisted for the Social Worker of the Year award, the winner of which is due to be announced at an event in London on November 4.
Since taking up the role in 2018, Bhavna has been able to build positive relationships with people whose often unstable, chaotic lifestyles mean they need help with everyday matters such as budgeting or shopping, through to more complex issues such as staying safe from violence, abuse or exploitation.
By drawing up money management plans, she has supported people to collect any money to which they are entitled and to do their shopping and pay bills regularly – an approach which has led to a decrease in the amount of financial extortion and even enabled some people to save some money for the first time in their lives.
The approach has also helped people to do simple things like saving money to buy a train ticket to visit family, buy a relative a Christmas present or save for household items.
Despite being based at Beaumont Leys, the nature of Bhavna’s work means she has continued to work with clients in person throughout the Covid pandemic, often involving sitting out on the streets with some of the city’s most vulnerable people to develop helping relationships.
Leicester deputy city mayor for social care and anti-poverty, Cllr Sarah Russell, said: “Bhavna’s role has been unique in its approach to dealing with people who are some of the most difficult to engage with in the city.
“This innovative, personal and direct approach has won her the respect and recognition within the street lifestyle community, as well as among her colleagues.
“Her one-to-one grass roots support has helped people move into accommodation, to claim benefits and even move away from a street lifestyle and begging, and by making that help directly available to people, there are no appointments or offices which might put people off from seeking assistance.”
The post is funded as part of the wider Street Lifestyle Operational Group (SLOG) – a multi-agency group involving the city council and police, which was set up in 2017 to tackle street drinking and drug taking, rough sleeping and begging in the city.
Bhavna added: “There is no quick fix when you work with someone who has been disadvantaged and has trust issues.
“It takes such a long time to build a rapport and I find that when quality of life has improved for individuals, my role is well worth it.”
Pictured are Bhavna with Michael, a volunteer cook at the drug and alcohol recovery centre No 5, and occupational therapist Royson.