How our outreach workers are working with rough sleepers

Published Wednesday, 13 October 2021

John Toman co-ordinates the rough sleeper outreach team in Coventry, here he gives an insight into the job and the challenges and successes of their work.

Kerri and Azin from the Council’s rough sleepers outreach team
Kerri and Azin from the Council’s rough sleepers outreach team

“The landscape of rough sleeping has changed here in the city and the ‘Everyone In’, nationwide response to the Covid pandemic, meant that local authorities – including Coventry – provided emergency accommodation for dozens of rough sleepers,’ explained John.

“During the pandemic the Council’s rough sleeper team has worked out of hotels and supported 310 people who were homeless or at risk of homelessness, and then finding somewhere to live for 260 of these.  

“More than 100 people had no recourse to public funds and were supported to gain UK status so they could access accommodation, work, and benefits.

“As a city we bid for and were successful in securing funding as part of a national rough sleeper initiative. This was an important step which meant the larger outreach team has been able responding quickly and effectively to rough sleeping and eradicate the need for people to rough sleep.” 

In 2019 The Council set out a Rough Sleeping Strategy and action plan that committed to work collectively to prevent people from having to sleep rough and will ensure that every individual person who is sleeping on the street will be offered help and advice to secure and maintain accommodation with the aim of eliminating rough sleeping in the city by 2022.

John said the ambitious target is an important measure. He said: “Key to achieving this was the way we work, the makeup of our staff team and our approach to partnership working is.

“The  current team is multi-functional, including specialist roles and projects that tackle the local issues we see in Coventry including a: complex women’s navigator, a navigator working with Non-UK residents who have no recourse to public funds; a drug and alcohol treatment specialist; and a mental health community worker.

“It also includes a number of staff working to support ex-rough sleepers in their new accommodation to help prevent them returning to homelessness as well as working with ex-offenders to help them settle in and sustain new accommodation.

“We have also developed and delivered joint projects and new job roles with Mental Health services, The Salvation Army, CGL (Change, Grow, Live), CRMC (Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre), Langar Aid, Probation, The Gateway and Public Health. 

“As a result of the pandemic many long-term rough sleepers were housed and have remained in accommodation for 18 months, however the summer often sees a spike in rough sleeping with new people or previous rough sleepers appearing on the streets.  Numbers have crept up in the last couple of months, reasons for this include:

  • a small number of entrenched rough sleepers who have refused service support for years (some for decades)
  • people recently evicted or abandoned accommodation who do not have a priority need to be re-accommodated
  • those who have accommodation but don’t want to stay there and so sleep out (sometimes on and off)
  • people who have not gained UK status so cannot claim housing benefit and aren’t working.  

“Recently we are seeing more people who have a history of being supported by services losing their accommodation due to anti-social behaviour, violence or aggression towards other residents or staff. 

“We will support people for as long as we can and look for accommodation across the city and then around the country if there is no local option.  Unfortunately, some people eventually run out of options because of the risks associated with them and finding places who are willing to accommodate them becomes increasingly difficult.  

John said that going forward that agencies could not be complacent. He said: “Building on the learning and the opportunity that the “Everyone In”  directive gave us we have recognised that – to achieve ours and central governments ambition to eradicate rough sleeping – the teams work needs to  focus more on prevention and recovery, whilst still maintaining our ability to respond and support people in crisis.”

Cllr David Welsh, Cabinet Member who is responsible for housing support in the city believes that the multl-agency approach is working well. He explains, “We have excellent joint working in the city to support rough sleepers and our Rough Sleeper Outreach Team has grown over the last three years.

“We are still going to have challenges ahead and we want to stress that residents who see someone and have concerns because they have got no home or friends or family to stay with can get in touch so that we can try to find a solution.”

John added that over the coming 12 months and beyond the team want to ensure that it is equipped and able to focus on prevention and recovery – whilst still responding to crisis situations. 

He added: “We feel that by working up stream to prevent people returning to the street and by ensuring people are supported in their recovery will reduce the need for crisis intervention. We cannot do this alone, so our partners and the additional funding initiatives that we have secured are integral to achieving this.

“For our prevention objectives and priorities to work it is crucial that we work in tandem with health,  probation, substance misuse services and our own homelessness prevention function as well as our accommodation providers in the city to be able to identify, and respond quickly to those on the cusp of rough sleeping.”

“For those settling into new homes, connecting people with people, activities and services in their communities is key to sustainability of both their home and their own well -being.” 

What to do in crisis

In Coventry if someone has got no home or friends or family to stay with and has no option but to rough sleep, the outreach team will look to engage them on their early morning outreach walks across the city.  People can let the team know of the whereabouts of someone rough sleeping by reporting here: www.streetlink.org.uk

These reports come directly through to the rough sleeper team who will physically go and look for those reported, assessing those we find for accommodation and responding to their immediate needs.

John said: “Often those we find due to our effective pathways and partnerships in the city we can accommodate quite quickly, often same day.   For those whose reasons for street homelessness are more complex we can look at other more innovative solutions including the emergency bed provision, providing a bed for a short period of time while we explore people’s options.”

How you can help

  • Report anyone rough sleeping at www.streetlink.org.uk
  • Steps for Change is at 8 City Arcade, Mon-Fri 9.30am-4.30pm

People can also make contactless donations to help provide support to people who are sleeping rough. The scheme called Change into Action covers things like rental deposits for permanent accommodation to new clothing and training for jobs. Agencies apply on behalf of rough sleepers to receive a payment to either purchase goods or services that will either prevent rough sleeping or assist to move somebody into accommodation.

Dozens of people have been helped by the scheme. Payment consoles are available at Coventry Building centre, High Street and McDonalds, Cross Cheaping. Read more about the Change into Action scheme. 

A web page coordinates public donations, with Feeding Coventry – a local charity, working to distribute the money raised by the public, directly to rough sleepers. www.changeintoaction.org.uk 

Coventry City Council