What's it like to help rough sleepers?

30 Nov 2017
by Neil Skinner

Framework's Street Outreach Workers are out in the early hours of every morning engaging directly with people who are sleeping rough. Their job is to build relationships with the people they find, and work out ways to get them off the streets for good. We asked County Outreach Service Manager Collette a few questions about her work?

Why are people sleeping rough?

“I would say that nearly all the people we have been helping have what we call multiple needs. That means that being homeless is not the only significant problem in their lives. In most cases people don’t end up street homeless just because they can’t pay the rent.”

How do you help somebody sleeping rough?

“Getting people into safe and stable accommodation is an absolute must – although it is only the start of a much longer journey of help and support. But getting people to that point can be very difficult. My work can be very challenging.”

What is so challenging about your work?

“Rough sleeping really is a life-changing experience, and it can make people turn away from help rather than towards it. To somebody who’s never worked with homeless people that can sound odd, but I don’t think the general public always realise quite how hard it can be to help people for whom rough sleeping has become a way of life. We work with some very difficult people who can be very reluctant to accept help. On occasion they can also be extremely volatile. That’s not very nice but I can understand the reasons for it and will keep going back to help that person.”

What’s the most upsetting element of your work?

“For me it is probably the number of people I see who have, at some point in the past, been in the care system. Something is very clearly wrong when people leaving care are allowed to slip through all established safety nets and end up in the street. Then there are the places I find people sleeping in. It’s hard to see some of those places and not be affected by it.  I also struggle with how isolated and this client group quickly become from society.”

What is the most uplifting element of your work?

“It’s not always about finding people housing or helping them to engage with things like benefits; it’s about building a working, trusting relationship with the people I support. I’m talking here about people who have lost trust in pretty much every individual and every organisation that has tried to help them in the past. Trust is something I have to earn, but once it is established my job becomes a lot easier. I have also really enjoyed the opportunity to work with some of the other organisations supporting local homeless people. The Beacon Centre in Mansfield, for example, are doing fantastic work.”

How can people help rough sleepers?

“Primarily by reporting the locations of homeless people to us. We’re now covering a very big area and need all the help we can get I would urge anyone who knows of somebody sleeping rough to call us on our hotline number (0800 066 5356) or make a referral to www.streetlink.or.uk. We’re not the police and we have no intention of moving them on to somewhere else. We want to discover the reasons why they are living that way and work on solutions to help them.”

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