A snapshot of outreach support with Guildford's rough sleeper community

February 9, 2020 9:05 PM
By Angela Goodwin

Angela Goodwin writes:

I often wonder just how many people living in our borough really know how our rough sleepers are being helped. I admit that before I became a Councillor I had very little understanding and yet we all see the evidence each day - people sleeping in our shop doorways or multi-storey car parks, used needles and empty alcohol cans / bottles.

There is a lot of available help but we need to be better at communicating what we are doing and why. And, in my role as GBC's Lead member for Homelessness, I'm striving to improve general awareness and communication amongst our residents…

One thing for sure is that no one organisation can do this work by itself. We are very fortunate in Guildford that there are many local organisations and agencies who work together as a partnership to help our rough sleepers; these include Number 5 (night shelter), Guildford Action (Day Centre), Catalyst (alcohol and drug addiction) and the Homelessness Outreach and Support Service (HOST for short). And then there's the Police, Town Rangers, Park Rangers and Car Park Teams to name but a few. And - in the middle of all of this support - are the rough sleepers, human beings, many with complex needs and vulnerabilities.

I joined Guildford's HOST team (based in Vaughan House, Chertsey Street) and the Amethyst Project worker (run through Catalyst) early on Wednesday morning (5 February 2020). Once a week, they walk around our town centre doing outreach work - in short, to make sure our rough sleepers are safe and well. They take with them hot water (to make coffee, tea and hot chocolate), biscuits, cereal bars, a torch, a first aid kit and an overdose reversal kit. Thankfully, on this occasion the overdose reversal kit wasn't needed…

Rough sleeper outreach kit

At 7am we set off on foot. The two staff members checked into their 'Lone Worker app' - safety is a priority. We went to the usual places around town where it's warm and dry - the stairwells of our multi-storey car parks (I never knew there were so many steps!) and the empty shop front doorways. People move around so they're not always found in the same place; they also know they have to 'pack up and move on' before busy town life begins. On this day, we counted 8 of our known rough sleepers. Last week it was 10 - which is the average number. Towards the end of each month, the town walk starts even earlier (around 6am) to catch people asleep so that accurate numbers can be recorded. And once a year - usually in November - a UK-wide count is undertaken during a certain time snapshot (last November it was between 1am and 3am). These stats are used to evidence the funding that organisations receive and to officially monitor the number of rough sleepers.

I was introduced to a lovely couple who gave me permission to take a photo of them both. Despite the early hour, they were in good spirits and welcomed our presence - but I'm well aware that other rough sleepers may not feel so friendly towards us. Listening to the conversations, there's a real sense of community amongst the rough sleepers - they look out for each other and share food, and have started to gain the trust of those people who genuinely want to help.

Guildford rough sleepers

I am very excited about the future. There's a lot to do over the coming months - such as the launch of our 'Housing First' pilot and the recently announced £300,000 government's funding boost to help rough sleepers off the street that will go a long way to:

  • expand our specialist mental health, drug and alcohol outreach work
  • support Guildford's Night shelter to implement a range of improvements including extending opening hours
  • provide comprehensive training and expert support to help agencies who support rough sleepers.

And, last but not least, Guildford Borough Council (GBC) plans to redesign and recommission its rough sleeper services in 2021 in partnership with Surrey County Council.

I'll let you know more as and when things happen!

Angela Goodwin - Councillor, Friary & St Nicolas Ward and Lead member for Housing, Homelessness, Access & Disability.