Persistence and early intervention - how we help rough sleepers

13 Jun 2014
by Jonny Goldsmith

‘It’s his choice’. ‘It’s her choice’. ‘It’s their choice’. ‘It’s my choice’.

All of the above are phrases that we hear on an all too frequent basis when talking to people or other agencies about rough sleepers. And yes, whilst there may be an element of truth to all of them, ultimately whoever is making that choice… It is a poor choice! And as a service we will challenge that choice. (Although not by using metal spikes!).

Woodland Rough Sleeping Site, Lincoln

A woodland rough sleeping site in Lincoln

The average life expectancy of a male rough sleeper is 47. The average life expectancy of a female rough sleeper is 43. A rough sleeper is 13 times more likely to be a victim of a violent crime! Who would choose that?

I find it very difficult to accept that someone would consciously choose to rough sleep? I find it very difficult to accept that at the age of 12 years that a person would say… "When I’m older I’m going to live under that bridge". "I’m going to sleep in that doorway". "I’m going to sleep in that car park".

Lincoln Squay

This is a 'bedroom' in a derelict building in Lincoln

Often it is easier to say ‘It’s my choice’ rather than accept the fact that their life, at that time, has failed. And very often there is a reason that has bought that person to a point in their life where they have given up

That is why early intervention is the key And where that hasn’t been possible that is where persistent support is vital!

The dictionary definition of persistence is as follows:

"continuing firmly or obstinately in an opinion or course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition".

As a service that is what we do. We won’t take no for an answer. We may wake someone in the middle of the night and they may tell us to ‘go away’ or such like... But if that happens we will go back the next night, and then the next night, and then the next night.

By being persistent we are able to break down barriers which enable us to understand the reasons why that person has ended up rough sleeping in the first place. This enables us to establish the most appropriate pathway for them to exit a street lifestyle. That may take two weeks or, in the case of one man we helped recently in Lincoln, it may take almost two years!

This man had slept rough for a period of almost 20 years. I vividly remember a conversation with someone who told me that he was ‘unhousable’ and that he was ‘choosing’ to sleep out. Almost two years later I vividly remember a conversation with that same person where I was able to tell them ‘that person that you said was ‘unhousable’… He’s housed.’

Rough sleeping spot in Lincoln

This is where this man was living for much of that time

By being persistent, by breaking down barriers, we were able to understand that this person was in fact somebody who was very unwell, someone who had a serious brain injury, and someone that had chronic alcohol issues. 

My point being that things are not always what they seem. It may not always be as simple as ‘a choice’.


Mark is a very good example of somebody who had fallen into long-term rough sleeping. After nearly nine years on the streets we helped him to be housed.


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