'We're struggling to get him help': the reality of getting rough sleepers off the streets

A homeless person on Buchanan Street in Glasgow

Organisations helping support rough sleepers explain why it can sometimes be difficult to get them off the streets - Credit: PA

Staff at a Hackney office have been left 'heartbroken' after multiple attempts to get a rough sleeper help.

Practice manager Lisa Sparkes, from Stephen Davy Peter Smith Architects near Pitfield Street, got in touch with the Gazette just before Christmas. 

She said she had been reporting a man experiencing homelessness called Dillon to Street Link since November 18. 

Lisa said in December: "Were struggling to get him help, we don’t know what to do."

StreetLink is a charity connecting people sleeping rough to local services.

People reporting a rough sleeper to the charity can send an alert via its website, mobile app or phone service.

The charity then passes that information on to a local outreach team.

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Lisa continued to report Dillon to the charity, as well as St Mungo's homeless charity, the police, Thamesreach's The Greenhouse walk-in centre and the probation service. 

Dillon has continued to sleep "intermittently" in the office's doorway.  

Lisa said: "We don’t know him, we've made a bit of contact. We know now he's called Dillon and we're not sure that he particularly wants any help.

"But if it wasn’t so sad it would be laughable."

She says the rough sleeper's drug habit means he is unable to keep a phone or other belongings.

"I gave him sleeping bags but he didn’t keep that for very long. He had that for a couple of hours before he sold it," she added. 

Lisa has reported the drug use to police but said the cops did not "turn up". 

She said: "We keep telling them were gonna find him dead on our doorstep.

"Who can blame him taking drugs when its bitter cold."

File photo dated 25/01/18 of a homeless person outside Victoria Station in London.

People sleeping rough may be reluctant to get help for a variety of reasons - Credit: PA

The severe weather emergency protocol known as SWEP aims to provide emergency accommodation for rough sleepers during extremely cold weather.

But it is only activated when night-time temperatures go below zero.

In response to Dillon's case Hackney Council said a range of specialist services, including the council's street outreach team have been working with Dillon to encourage him to engage with services and get back into accommodation. 

They report checking on his welfare on a regular basis and are working to "gain his trust".

Though a council spokesperson said they "cannot force anyone to engage with offers of help". 

A council spokesperson said the "overwhelming majority" of rough sleepers are supported into accommodation. 

The statement added: "It can take time to build trust with and encourage individuals to leave the streets, and during this time we would encourage residents to respect his right to privacy at this time."

Petra Salva, director of rough sleeper and migrant services at St Mungo’s, said: "It is not appropriate for us to comment on an individual matter, however what we do know from our work supporting people who have spent time living on the streets is that it can be a highly complex issue.

"Every individual is different and there may be any number of reasons why a person may choose not to engage with support - and it is ultimately their decision."

Ms Salva added that a vital part of the work done by St Mungo's street outreach teams is to "build rapport and trusting relationships with people who are sleeping rough", especially those reluctant to engage or have lost trust in support services. 

She stated: "Our outreach workers go out day and night across the capital all year round so that in the event people change their minds and are ready to accept support, they know outreach staff will be there as they start their recovery from homelessness.

“However, please don’t assume that everyone sleeping rough wants to be there.

"I would urge anyone who is worried about someone sleeping outside to contact the national rough sleeper referral service StreetLink and make a referral so that our outreach teams can connect with them.” 

If you see a person sleeping rough alert Street Link via it's app on the Apple App store and Google Play.

Or visit www.streetlink.london/Streetlink_London_HomePage

Rough sleeping in Hackney – how you can help 

The four steps give residents simple steps to make a positive difference and help people they see sleeping rough.

Talk: A smile or ‘hello’ can make a big difference, to help someone feel less invisible and part of the community

Tap: Help financially by donating £3 to Tap London’s contactless donation points - money goes to the Mayor of London’s rough sleeping fund, which supports local charities. There are donation points at Hackney Town Hall reception and by E8 Cafe in the HSC.

Time: Find out about local volunteering opportunities at hackney.gov.uk/rough-sleeping

Tell: If you see someone bedding down outside, let our outreach workers know via the Streetlink app (streetlink.org.uk) or direct them to the Greenhouse in Tudor Road, E9, the council’s one stop shop for advice and services for people facing homelessness.

 For further information on rough sleeping in Hackney, visit hackney.gov.uk/rough-sleeping




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