In 2017, The Connection at St Martin’s began to develop a new day-time outreach service to help Westminster’s wider street population.
Before this, outreach services had operated only at night with quite narrow criteria – only being able to assist verified rough sleepers, defined as people seen physically bedded down at night. Clearly, this was no longer enough. There are other issues of ‘street activity’ in Westminster, such as begging and anti-social behaviour, which go way beyond rough sleeping.
A day-time count suggested there are at least 350 people out daily on the streets in Westminster. Many of these travel in during the day and might not stay overnight, meaning they’re likely to be missed by the support offered by traditional night-time outreach provision.
Thankfully, concern for people who are on the streets during the day is being expressed across the board. It is not acceptable for people to be living with such high support needs and no obvious route out of their situation. While some of the behaviour exhibited can be considered illegal, enforcement can only be part of a response. It is vital that a good social care offer is made, not once, but repeatedly.
The effects of life on the streets are devastating. People are isolated, have increased chances of taking drugs, of developing or exacerbating existing poor mental health, or experiencing severe physical health problems.
The average age of death on the streets is just 47.
Homelessness also damages society – it is estimated that the average cost of a homeless person to the public purse is £26,000 a year, and that homelessness costs the UK as a whole £1 billion a year.
Many are vulnerable people who feel let down by services; this makes them understandably mistrustful and reluctant to engage. Some have had a whole string of social care organisations stepping in and out of their lives and have still ended up in crisis on the streets. One of our biggest challenges is how to build trust and meaningfully engage with very unwell, disenfranchised, or resistant individuals.
The new Street Engagement Team launched in April 2018 with two outreach workers.
Over the past year, we have successfully attracted additional partners and now have a team six outreach workers (as at April 2019). In order to fully resource the team to effectively cover Westminster, we need a team of ten outreach workers.