A day in the life of a Street Outreach worker

Barry is a Street Outreach worker at The Connection. His job is to help people sleeping rough access the support they need to move away from the streets. Read about a recent night shift:

I am a Street Outreach worker. I walk along the streets of Westminster, stopping to talk to homeless people who are sleeping in doorways and on the pavements, and in the alleyways behind buildings. There is no such thing as an average day, or “shift” and we work early in the morning and also very late at night.

There is a very different rhythm and lilt of life late at night in the capital. Once the shops are closed and the last of the revellers are on their way home, the streets, theatres, Cathedrals, and Palaces seem far more bleak and isolated places to be.

To give an example, these are just three of the people who we encountered on a recent night shift through the city:

Joe is 44. He’s sleeping in a doorway under a plastic sheet on a busy shopping street in the West End. He feels safer out in public view, although he is unlikely to sleep much. He tells us that he has experienced mental health problems for most of his adult life, and this led to a marital breakdown and him rough sleeping. Joe is reluctant to access a daycentre or a hostel bed, owing to the auditory hallucinations he is having, which he describes as “voices”, telling him the world is ending imminently.

Ellie is 25 and recently arrived from Liverpool. We are worried about her as she is regularly seen in a sleeping bag out in the rain, with nothing more than cardboard boxes between her and the pavement. She doesn’t want to disclose much information, but we will keep returning to talk to her, and to establish what has happened to encourage her into some temporary housing, however long this takes.

Piotr is 37 and he was initially resistant to engaging with any Street Outreach services, and seemed to be intoxicated on several occasions. The people we encounter can often be distrustful of services, as they have felt let down in the past. Our role is to get to know people, what has brought them here, and initiate a working relationship, so that they start to understand that we’re here to help. In Piotr’s case, he has now opened up to us, after many weeks of stopping in the street to talk to him. He told us that he came to the UK to work last year, only to find himself working 12 hours a day for less than £2 an hour on a building site. He was threatened and locked into a cellar room with minimal food every night until he escaped, and was found by us hiding in central London. He is now being supported to return home to his family.

For these people, and so many others, we work towards a route off the streets through The Connection’s services. We’ll find emergency accommodation and longer term housing, as well as access to healthcare, support for enduring mental health problems, and the treatment and counselling to recover from dependencies on alcohol or drugs.

We often hear that homelessness is self-inflicted. That is a matter of opinion, but from my own experience of over 20 years, the reality is far more complex. There are vulnerable people from across the world, for whom one thing, or a series of things have gone catastrophically wrong, leading to them sleeping rough on the streets of London. I am motivated to go to work every day because if we can help even a single person off the streets, then it is a job worth doing.