Working with people sleeping rough to develop trust and support them away from the streets
No matter where you live in the country, you can’t have failed to notice the increase in rough sleepers in recent years. Nowhere is it more obvious than Westminster. It’s estimated that 1 in 15 of all rough sleepers in England are here.
The impact of rough sleeping is enormous – it puts people at risk of crime and violence, causes physical and mental health problems and damages wellbeing.
Our day time Street Engagement Team provides a proactive response to the issues of rough sleeping, begging and street population in Westminster.
Our dedicated Street Engagement Advisors go out and about in pairs during shifts, which take place between 7am and 7pm. Where we go is guided by referrals we receive from the local community and our own knowledge of rough sleeping, begging and anti-social behaviour across the borough.
During shifts, Advisors identify and engage with new clients, as well as checking in on people we already know.
Once we’ve engaged with people, we work to help them resolve their homelessness through a range of different support services – such as mental health or substance misuse treatment – to encourage them to move away from a life on the streets.
The people we talk to are often experiencing trauma or have been let down by services, family or friends Our experience has taught us that it is often time-consuming and painstaking work to build up the rapport and trust we need to be able to work effectively with each individual.
Our Advisors take time to carefully establish and develop trusting relationships with clients on the street – where we find them. We focus on their priorities, not our own, and work at their pace.
If you are concerned about a rough sleeper, or are rough sleeping yourself, you can always contact StreetLink on 0300 500 0914, via the StreetLink app, on Twitter @Tell_StreetLink or online at https://www.streetlink.org.uk/. StreetLink connects rough sleepers to services in their local area.
Chloe has been a Street Engagement Advisor since July 2018. Here, she tells us a bit about what it’s like being a member of the team…
What do you like about your job?
It’s incredibly varied. A combination of street shifts and case-working people with very complex needs means no day is ever the same. I’m very proud that I’m able to make a difference for vulnerable people who have experienced real difficulties in life – most of my clients aren’t engaging with other services, so I’m basically it for them! That’s a big responsibility and I take it seriously.
What are the main challenges?
Many people say ‘go away’ when I first approach them, and I have to respect that. A lot of clients are entrenched and have been on the streets for years. Building rapport and trust takes time, especially when previous experiences with support services may not have not worked out for whatever reason.
However, I don’t give up on them! More often than not, patience and persistence pay off. I continue to approach people politely and hopefully over time they realise that I’m there for them, that I’m reliable and that I genuinely want to help.
What’s been the highlight or your proudest moment so far?
Working with a woman who had been sleeping rough for months, with a serious drug addiction and an abusive partner which made it very difficult for her to engage with us at first. Through months of persistent (almost daily) contact, we were finally able to get her into accommodation. She still needs a lot of support from us, but she’s in a much safer place now, and I’m proud that I could help make that happen.