Billy O’Brien – Outreach Worker
Big Ben, Tussauds, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace. The attractions roll off the tongue, the sights we see every day on our way to work, the huge queues forming to get in, the half price offers in the Sunday papers and the long winded promises to take a loved one or visitor to one of theses attractions…what else does London attract us with? Pubs, bars, clubs, discos, theatres, cinemas, open parks, Soho, Oxford St, Covent Garden, Trafalgar Sq….the list goes on and on. All part of why London is the centre of the world, and it’s why it attracts 30 million visitors a year, and is the most visited city in terms of international visitors.
But what about the other side of London, the side most of us will never see or will even know about. Let me tell you what’s happening in our borough (this is not a reflection on rough sleeping). Westminster as a whole in the year Sept 11 to Sept 12 had the following- 7,741 violent crimes against persons, 2,123 robberies against persons, 167 rapes, 1,582 residential burglaries- a snapshot of overall crime in Westminster. Source: Met Police Crime Figures 2011/2012
What’s this got to do with rough sleeping? Well some of you may, or may not, know that I have been going on joint outreach shifts with the SSHU – the Safer Streets Homeless Unit. They are a dedicated unit of the Met Police at Charing Cross Police station whose remit is to target and identify problematic rough sleepers, address and investigate crime in our homeless community, serve the Westminster community businesses and residents by protecting them from crime and anti-social behaviour from rough sleepers ie; drug dealing, begging, urination, sleeping on private property. They also check regularly on the welfare of our most vulnerable rough sleepers, much the same as we do, when we are on shift, ensuring they are safe and not in any immediate danger. They also attend case conferences to contribute to vulnerable rough sleepers’ action plans, not for enforcement but to be part of the multi agency involvement it takes to get high support clients into a better and safer environment.
We also attend monthly partnership meetings with SSHU and other units of the Met such as the Safer Neighbourhood Team, to discuss and plan ways of motivating/supporting high support clients and those involved in anti-social behaviour to address their behaviour and the impact it has on our locality as a whole.
SSHU also assist when we are planning and implementing mental health act sectioning to ensure it goes smoothly and less traumatic for the clients involved.
So, they are in effect a partnership agency and we need to be working closely with them, I’m not saying we disclose and inform on our clients as we all know the policies and procedures around this, it’s about being up to date with current strategies concerning rough sleeping- here is a quote from the Westminster Rough Sleeping Strategy 2010/2013, “protecting the community from anti-social behaviour associated with rough sleepers, including begging, litter, noise and urination”.
Enforcement of anti-social behaviour is a top 2 priority for the council, and we need to be seen to be contributing to this, why you ask? Rough sleeping provision in Westminster is located in business and residential areas, the behaviour of some individuals undermines the acceptance, in the community, of the worth of service for rough sleepers, with the high numbers of rough sleepers into Westminster it is important that anti-social behaviour or destructive behaviour is not accepted as the norm and is dealt with swiftly and appropriately, targeted operations tackle cross border drug and alcohol related activity, prevent new rough sleepers being drawn into criminal activity such as begging, drugs and prostitution. (Source: Westminster City Council Rough Sleepers Strategy 2010/2013)
There are objectives to working closely with our enforcement partners- Ensuring a balance between enforcement and social care agencies, target those who are not vulnerable but refuse all offers of assistance and use all available enforcement options against them, SSHU/SNT to enforce the “one service offer” message, regular meetings with community groups in order to understand the issues that are of most concern to residents and businesses, seek the support of the UKBA (United Kingdom Border Agency) to deal swiftly with those with no recourse to public funds engaged in persistent low level crime and anti social behaviour. (Source: Westminster City Council Rough Sleepers Strategy 2010/2013)
Historically social care and enforcement have had, how shall I say, a grey area in terms of information sharing and when and when not to use the police, which is understandable as we have clients confidentiality to adhere to, and also client/worker relationships to consider. The police have excellent professional boundaries and don’t expect us to inform on clients. But if we witness anti-social behaviour- we witness a crime, it’s our job and responsibility to either address it or report it. We can’t suddenly say “oh it’s outside the building” or “they are only drinking” or worse, turn our backs. No one likes to walk up Adelaide St in the morning and see our street drinkers causing alarm, distress and harassment to the public, but who can say they’ve seen it and reported it?
Anti-social behaviour is not just attributed to rough sleepers, as we saw last year during the London riots, but we do have people who are in our locality who have no reason being here other than to cause alarm, distress and intimidation to the public and they claim to be rough sleepers. Also there is incidents of anti-social behaviour at Soup Runs and food handouts, property being damaged and the soup runs themselves being monopolised by the greedy- not the needy. This isn’t a rant about how bad or worse anti-social behaviour is, or how anti-social behaviour is a major problem in rough sleeping because it isn’t, it’s about addressing it and letting those know who are committing anti-social behaviour that it is not acceptable and we will be working closely with our enforcement partners to eradicate it from our community.
The Connection at St Martins has a track record of innovative ideas and interventions in addressing rough sleeping, and I am happy to set an example by being seen to support our local bobbies in addressing/reporting anti-social behaviour and support our local businesses and residents…..
And with the common aim we and the police have……………. to get our rough sleepers off the street and into sustainable accommodation.