Another perspective – Westminster Outreach Team / St. Mungos SOS

By way of introduction, my name is Owusu and I’m one of 4 Geographic Coordinators at Westminster Outreach team, St Mungos – SOS. I’ve held my current role for approximately 18 months and was previously leading with Anti-social Behaviour (ASB) for the team. Just to give you some further insight into the current structure of the outreach team, we’ve divided Westminster into 4 patches (South, Central, West & North), led by 4 geographic coordinators. Each area has different issues in terms of rough sleeping cohorts, numbers, ASB, etc. The team operates out of Rochester Row, Victoria and is commissioned by Westminster Council to provide 365-day street shift cover for the borough.

From a historical standpoint, large swathes of Central (Strand & Whitehall, Covent Garden), closely followed by South (Victoria) had the most rough sleeping numbers. Over the last couple years, when you consider issues around immigration, the West patch (Piccadilly, Mayfair, Oxford Street and Park Lane) has higher numbers of rough sleepers, particularly from the Roma community – in saying that, the conversations within teams and externally is do we classify this migrational, gypsy group as rough sleepers in the traditional sense of the word! In terms of how Westminster Outreach team function, a lot has changed in my time here, notwithstanding dealing with a worldwide pandemic and lock downs, over the last few years. I can confirm Westminster SOS were still in operation conducting daily shifts throughout Covid.

Bi-monthly street counts are conducted by the team and while this is not the only barometer used to determine rough sleeping numbers on the street, it does give us and our commissioners a snapshot of numbers on the street and demographics on the given night. As you would expect rough sleeping numbers are not constant and go up as down depending on the local/central movement policy, resources, time of year or level of enforcement action in the borough!

Along with the associated problems of service access to substance misuse, physical health and mental health services. Other problematic questions that come to mind is dealing with the influx of foreign nationals who fall outside the EUSS (European Settlement Scheme) NRPF (No recourse to public funds) cohorts, benefits claimants and the cost of living crisis, affordable housing and long-term rough sleepers who appear to in/out of services like a revolving door!

‘While I do think amazing work has been done over the years by services to impact those involved in rough sleeping, I feel that the human factor is always the hardest issue to resolve.’

This could be anything from our applications of rules and procedures, managing expectations, our messaging to service users or public, funding and policy changes. Lastly, the role that organisations take on to be everything to everyone when maybe a department like social services, Housing, Police, business or the wider community have a role to play! I’m a great believer that partnership work is the way ahead in dealing with rough sleeping rather than sometimes as separate entities.

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