'˜We will never judge rough sleepers, we just check on them and make sure they're okay' Mansfield Outreach workers head out to help the homeless
It's five o'clock on a dark, windy September morning, and two women are wrapped up warm to look for rough sleepers in Mansfield town Centre.
Armed with torches, the outreach workers want to earn the trust of rough sleepers who may not want to accept help through shame, pride, or being set in their ways.It can take a warm coffee, some kind words, or just letting a rough sleeper know someone is looking out for them to build up that trust. The street outreach team is designed to offer a lifeline to those in the most desperate need.Collette Acton, team leader of the Framework outreach workers, who are based at the day centre on Sherwood Street says: “Sometimes there is peer pressure not to engage with us. If someone doesn’t want to be found, they won’t want the community around them to come forward.“A lot of rough sleepers have been living that way for a long time and they’re not all ready to engage.”The first thing the team do is call in to the CCTV control room run by Mansfield District Council, who alert them to where rough sleepers have spent the night, and follow the workers on camera for their safety.Armed with the knowledge of where rough sleepers are, Collette and outreach worker Megan Hudson head into the town.Collette said: “There’s this image of rough sleepers sleeping in shop doorways, but that’s not usually the case. “Rough sleepers often don’t want to be found. We look for little clues that someone has been staying in an area.”Because it takes a long time to build-up trust with rough sleepers, the outreach service do not want to publish details of their locations, in case they refuse to co-operate in the future, and the trust is destroyed. Bedding stashed under a bush and a pint of milk half finished on top of some railings are signs, Collette says, which indicate someone has been staying there recently. She says: “This will be put as a location to keep checking regularly, now we’ve seen signs that somebody is around.”Collette and her team regularly report back to Mansfield District Council about how many rough sleepers there are at any time, so the council is aware of the scale of the problem. She says: “If someone has been let down before, there is a lack of trust and they won’t want to engage with services. “It’s important we come out and earn their trust.“We never judge anyone for not wanting to engage, we just check on them and make sure they’re okay.”Rough sleepers often do not want to be found, so they take to areas out of the public’s eye, such as in loading bays or even bins. Collette says: “Rough sleepers are prone to abuse if they are in doorways or on benches. They have been assaulted, attacked and even urinated on.”The outreach workers make sure to check the large metal bins used by businesses, as there have been incidents of rough sleepers seeking shelter in them, which can be incredibly dangerous if waste disposal come to empty the bins, unaware someone is in them. It is not long before the team come across a lone man, wrapped up in a sleeping bag under a bush on a patch of grass. His English is limited, but Megan arranges to meet him later on in the day with an interpreting service to get him the help he needs. As well as going out to look for rough sleepers, the outreach workers take referrals from the public. Collette says: “We advise any member of the public who has seen someone sleeping out, or is concerned to give us a call.”The street outreach team have been working across the county for 18 months, and are partly self funded, and partly financed from central government.The day centre on Sherwood Street has 15 beds for rough sleepers who need emergency accomadation.The team come to a boarded-up house being used as a squat.Collette says: “With the squats it’s really dangerous for us to go in. My concern is what if something happens in that squat? “There are people living in there, they are human lives. “What we do with squats is report them to the fire brigade and raise a concern that there is a risk to life. “If the building does go on fire, the fire brigade will be alerted there may be people in there.”“Even just finding one rough sleeper is one too many – nobody should be having to rough sleep at all.”Some people who find themselves on the street will take the utmost care to ensure they are not found. Megan has been working hard to build trust with one man who is sleeping rough in a tent in a field, far away from prying eyes. The man, who does not want to be identified, found himself homeless 10 months ago after his universal credit, which replaced six other benefits, was paid late, and he was left unable to pay rent. He says; “It’s horrible having to live day by day. If it wasn’t for the outreach team I wouldn’t be getting any help getting back on my feet.“We get tarred with the same brush as the mamba-heads in town. “I can’t wait to get back to normal life again – I’ll be campaigning for homeless rights when I’m sorted.”He will soon be moving into accommodation with Framework’s help.Collette says homelessness is a complex, many layered problem and people who find themselves on the streets often have other issues that go hand-in-hand, such as former legal high spice, otherwise known as mamba. She says: “One of the difficulties is the rise in use of mamba. You can’t get away from it, it is a massive issue,it’s very much the issue of the moment across the country. “However, mamba is one layer of the complexity.“It’s something they use and become addicted to, and when you speak to them when they’re lucid, they hate it. Many rough sleepers have told us they regret using it because it is so addictive. “One alleyway in Mansfield had 10 rough sleepers last winter.Collette says: “It’ a health risk when there are that many that congregate, as you’ve only to to have one fall unwell and then they’re all sick – we see high hospital admission rates all throught the year.“We see poor mental and physical health in rough sleepers.“As part of our team there is a nurse specialist, who gets involved in our more complex cases and will come out and see people who are poorly.“Often, rough sleepers won’t want to see a doctor, even if they are really poorly. “There is a fear of how they’ll be treated, as it’s hard for them to keep up their hygiene.”“There’s an awful lot of shame among rough sleepers.”
Framework take referrals from the public if they see signs of rough sleepers, or even from people at risk of being made homeless or are already homeless. Call the 24-hour hotline on: 08000 665 356, or email [email protected] then helps them to get back on their feet, by: Finding safe and secure accommodation; Finding treatment for underlying drug, alcohol and mental health problems; Providing secure access to medical help; Helping people to re-engage with estranged family members; Helping people return to their home region or home country; Help with claiming whatever benefits they may be entitled to . However, it is not as simple at putting a former rough sleeper in a house and thinking their work is over.Collette says: “To just put them within four walls is asking them to give up what they know and move from their community. There is often a lack of life skills and many feel overwhelmed.“A lot have been failed from the start, There’s a high correlation of rough sleepers that have been in the care system or prison.”“Some people give up hope. I never, ever think someone can’t be helped. I’m realistic, and know it will be hard for some people, but if they’ve given up on themselves and we give up, what kind of message does that give out to them?”