Billy O’Brien – Outreach Worker
I recently wrote a blog about Anti-Social behaviour (ASB) and homelessness in Westminster and who it affects, and how it impacts on the community. It was written to highlight an issue that unfortunately we have in Westminster with ASB and street drinking, which we are committed to addressing and also engaging with those who are committing ASB whilst street homeless.
But, what isn’t heard of a lot are the positive outcomes we have in getting those involved to address the ASB, and to ‘steer’ them away from others who show no motivation or commitment to cease these behaviours which affect the community and its businesses and residents. We do have many successes and the following is proof…..
We first met ‘X’ (name undisclosed for confidential reasons) in 2005, presented from a large city in the North East of England and came to Central London to rough sleep and street drink because “there’s nothing up there for me anymore”, a sentence we hear many times from people who leave home areas and head to the magnetic and attractive bright lights of London. He believed that because he lost his job as a panel beater and was shunned by his family due to his chaotic drinking, that London would solve all his problems or ‘allow’ him to continue drinking himself into oblivion.
He initially used our day services to clean up or get cheap food. He then began to meet and hang around with people who had been rough sleeping for years, long term street drinkers and what most towns and cities in the UK have, a local ‘drinking school’. Now, obviously due to this person being new to the area not much was known about his character, his behaviours and how he interacts with people who show a genuine interest in his situation. What followed was approximately 6 years of chaos and destitution for this client, he became very problematic and on many occasions short term exclusions from our services were the only option open to us.
These weren’t because of his drinking as such but because this sometimes led to him becoming extremely threatening to staff and users of The Connection. He very rapidly became seriously physically dependant on alcohol, which was heart wrenching as we couldn’t always allow him into The Connection and he was clearly in need of help. He became a ‘face’ in Central London’s homeless community and also he was a constant target for enforcement teams and the police.
I personally began to case work him in early 2010, as my role/experience was suited more towards alcohol/drug using clients and those involved in ASB and chaotic street activities. The fact that many years previously I had been in almost the same position myself gave me an advantage in understanding the best way I could help. Our relationship began at his pace, just focusing on the little things, his health and the alcohol consequences, his personal care, access to the Day Centre without incidents and so forth. So he began to use services more meaningfully, and then began using our night centre on occasions, just to get an M.O.T from the streets.
This yielded positive results, he began to request structured appointments and I complimented this by escorting him to medical appointments and giving him incentives such as free food, clothing, travel fares and the crucial incentive- my ears and undivided attention.
On the occasions he was sober he showed such insight into himself, his past and a really dry and extremely funny sense of humour. Obviously he wasn’t a reformed character but he began to realise that shouting, threatening and being abusive wasn’t going to alleviate his situation. We then got to a stage were we hit the million dollar issue, his housing. His outlook on what he wanted was clear, a flat or nothing.
Due to his anti-social street activities he was made to sign up to an Acceptable Behaviour Agreement by Westminster City Council and breaching this agreement would only have led to him receiving an ASBO and being removed from central London altogether.
So we needed to strike whilst he was positively engaging, we put him in touch with a more personalised approach with St Mungos, and given funds to start working towards resettlement. His health was improving and he on his own back started to reduce his drinking. We then placed him in temporary accommodation to ‘train’ him for independent living, which can be daunting and scary for long term homeless clients, there were obvious teething problems but he and we worked through it, he had a massive support network to utilise and he milked it!
He now was housed in the early part of this year in his own tenancy in West London, he has never signed a tenancy, nor had his own place as he was either living with family or ex-partners. He isn’t ‘cured’; he is a work in progress. The magic of this story is he is maintaining his tenancy and using his support network if he is having problems, the part of this story which touches me and lets me sit back and feel warmth is that he is spending this Christmas indoors, in his own flat with his friends, not suffering or freezing near to death for the first time in years.
Please help us build hope for thousands of homeless and vulnerable people by supporting this year’s Radio 4 St Martn-in-the-Fields Christmas Appeal.