Three steps to helping homeless people

31 Oct 2017
by Michael Leng

IMG 1851fwFramework provides services for homeless and vulnerable people.  As a result we regularly come into contact with very vulnerable people – people who are living with multiple problems such as drug and alcohol addiction, mental ill health, and those who have histories of offending, trauma, domestic violence, unemployment and financial difficulties.

Over the past few weeks I have attended a number of public meetings and multi-agency forums in Nottingham which have included the police, community protection, local councillors and officers and representatives of the business community.  The focus of these meetings has been to discuss the impact of drug misuse in public places, anti-social behaviour, begging, and street homelessness and look at possible solutions. All of these are substantial problems which impact on everyone who lives, works, visits, plays and shops in our city. 

The level of rough sleeping in Nottingham is at an all-time high – mirroring other cities up and down the country.  The factors leading to this situation have been unfolding for almost a decade precipitated by the financial crash.   But it is the decisions made by successive central governments in response to the crisis which has led us to where we are now.  This has included welfare reform, devastating reductions to Local Authority budgets and the lack of investment in housing.  The list could go but the consequences have been devastating to some of the city’s most vulnerable citizens who are struggling to survive the chaos of their present lives.

Readers will be aware through media coverage and perhaps through their own experience (of witnessing people under the influence) of the emergence of new drugs such as ‘mamba’ and ‘spice’.  These synthetic cananbanoids are particularly dangerous.  They reduce the user to a ‘zombie like’ state and because they are composed of literally hundreds of compounds it is difficult for ambulance and hospital staff to understand what has been taken.  The use of these drugs, particularly when taken with alcohol, present a new and disturbing challenge.  The solution is not easy.

I fully understand the fears and frustrations expressed by the citizens of Nottingham and its business leaders. They have fears for themselves, their families, their staff and their customers. I believe that fear is not driven by a lack of compassion, but by a strong desire to see those people helped in some way.

So what is to be done?  Well for a start everyone has a role to play.   In writing this open letter I want to engage the public of Nottingham into a wider discussion to discover long term solutions.  In the short term there are three things that we can kick start today: 

  1. First and foremost please do not give directly to people who beg for money.  We know that in many cases individuals begging are not homeless and the money raised by begging is likely will be spent on drugs, which can have a very damaging effect on of the user. The same is true of people who are homeless. If you feel that you want to help by donating money then please give to those local charities working directly with vulnerable people.
  2. If you see someone sleeping on the streets call Framework’s Street Outreach Service on 0800 0665356. The team relies on intelligence from members of the public to ensure they know the whereabouts of all rough sleepers in the city and are able to help them. It may be just a phone-call, but it really could save somebody’s’ life.
  3. Report every incident of drug misuse you see via the 101 police telephone number.  Please do not call 999. Whilst this issue is very problematic it is not an emergency, but it is a police issue and should be reported. This is not about getting people in trouble, it is about helping them. Nottingham has one of the best preforming drug and alcohol treatment services in the country and many people are referred to these by the police. Let’s make sure they are used and that people get the help they need. 

Drugs, alcohol and mental ill health are prevalent issues within the street homeless population but I believe these are symptoms of underlying trauma and distress which need to be addressed through specialist support and treatment.  With regards to drugs let’s be absolutely clear those manufacturing and supplying substances are the ultimate problem and preventing them is the ultimate solution.  This is the responsibility of the criminal justice system but we can all assist them in this most difficult task by reporting any incident.  

Nottingham is a fantastic city - I have lived here for 30 years, my family has grown up here, and it is where I have always worked.  Here at Framework we will continue to work tirelessly with partner agencies and the public to deliver a safe and welcoming city for everyone to enjoy. 

Thank you for your support

*Michael Leng is Framework's Operations Director. 

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