"People should look at the person, not at the past:" Leeds man who struggled with homelessness now supports others in new charity role

A Leeds man who has formerly struggled with homelessness has been appointed by a charity to support others going through troubled times.

Leah Charlson, Liz Knight and Scotty Bell who have all been recruited for Simon On The Streets Picture: Sam Toolsie

Scotty Bell is the new co-production lead for Simon On The Streets, a Leeds-based charity which works to improve conditions for homeless people across the city.

In Mr Bell’s new role, he will work directly with homeless people to hear about their needs and ensure they are represented in how decisions are made at the charity.

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It’s something he has experience of, having lived on the streets on and off from the 1990s until 2010.

Mr Bell left the family home at 15, and fell into a lifestyle of petty crime and addiction which saw him serve time in prison.

He said: “What 15-year-old has life skills? The few I had got me into trouble, and I relied on them to survive. Drugs were introduced. I was living transiently, staying at friends, or if not, I was in prison.”

He found himself in a cycle of being released from prison but unable to find work.

“Trapped is the best word. Support was non existent. Who wants to hire an ex-prisoner?” he said, “I find a lot of people don’t believe in rehabilitation. They’re cynical from seeing so many failures and so few victories.”

But Mr Bell, 45, is a passionate believer that rehabilitation can change lives. He first found work with the probation service and has since moved on to his new role. He said: “My lived experience gives me that little bit of understanding. I understand what it’s like to have to find somewhere to stay every night.

“Someone without that experience has to dig a little bit deeper.

“People should look at the person, not at the past. I understand why people don’t recruit people with offences on their record, but a person that is homeless or has come out of prison still has a wide range of qualities, skills and assets. They’re not just a label.

“I’m an example of someone who might not get employed.”

Mr Bell believes that the time is now for local authorities and the government to build on the work they did to protect homeless people during the lockdown.

He said: “The services that were set up did come together in the pandemic. They got things wrong, as is the way but it showed that amidst all this competition for money and contracts, services can work together and that’s when it affects people positively.”

The charity has also recruited Leah Charlson as fundraising manager and Liz Knight as outreach team leader.

Simon on the Streets’ chief executive Natalie Moran said: “We’re delighted to welcome Scotty, Leah and Liz at what is a critical time for Simon on the Streets. They all bring a wealth of experience which will help us to connect further with our service users and support our clients in Leeds, Bradford and Kirklees.”