The Outreach Team and rough sleepers
One of the complexities of homelessness is that it takes many different forms. People in night shelters, shared house projects, staying on friends’ floors, squatting in disused buildings and those sleeping rough on the streets are all homeless.
The outreach team works specifically with people who sleep rough on the streets of Nottingham. A lot of our time is spent going out to where the rough sleepers are, building up good professional working relationships and referring them into services with the aim of helping them to move off the streets, settling into the community successfully.
For example, if we meet a street drinker during an outreach session we would refer them to Handel Street Wet Centre which is specifically for people with an alcohol dependency. If we meet a young person (12-26 years of age) we refer them to Base 51; a drug dependent and particularly an intravenous heroin using client would be referred to the Health Shop; those without drug or alcohol dependencies would be referred to Emmanuel House.
There is an outreach worker in each of these projects because rough sleepers can be homeless with drug, mental health, alcohol, behavioural, domestic violence, racial abuse, sexual abuse issues or a combination of any of these and other additional difficulties. The additional social issues of isolation, stigmatisation, chronic low self-esteem, the risk of exploitation or violence combined with physical problems of poor diet, poor health, exposure and often unsafe sleeping sites gives some idea of how very vulnerable rough sleepers can be. Working to meet these complex needs successfully can take anything from five minutes to five years and sometimes with more than one attempt.
Statistically speaking, the outreach team worked with 289 different rough sleepers on the streets of Nottingham between April 1999 and March 2000. About one fifth were women, just over half were aged under 25 years and about 90% had a recognised or suspected drug or alcohol dependency.
It is estimated that the life expectancy of a rough sleeper is about 42 years. This is significantly below the national average but is not surprising given the harshness of a street lifestyle. The outreach team, day centres and the various soup runs in the city who work closely with the outreach team all contribute to help rough sleepers move on from being on the streets rather than living and dying in such desperate circumstances.
Rough sleepers can resort to begging and for some this is their only source of income. Please note that not all rough sleepers are beggars and not all beggars are rough sleepers. It remains a matter of individual choice as to whether it is a good thing to give to beggars. Alternatively, personal donations of money, clothes or food could be given to the day centres and night shelters’ organisations (Nottingham Help the Homeless Association, Base 51, Emmanuel House, Macedon, the Salvation Army). Local MP Alan Simpson is currently working towards establishing a ‘diverted begging scheme’ aimed at helping the public give to local organisations rather than directly to beggars.
If anyone is feeling active, do get in touch with the organisations mentioned above about becoming a volunteer. We would not recommend that you go out to rough sleepers yourselves. As a Christian church you may prefer to pray for workers in organisations for homeless people and the clients themselves.
It is a terrible shame both socially and politically that people sleep rough on the streets today. Hopefully this short article will go some way to showing how complex homelessness issues are, and in particular how rough sleepers are amongst some of the most marginalized, misunderstood and vulnerable in contemporary society. Thankfully, contemporary society is also providing the services required to assist rough sleepers settle into the community.