Homelessness organisations have condemned plans to cut street
outreach teams for rough sleepers in Westminster, central London,
saying it will leave vulnerable people without support.
According to council plans, small “street rescue” teams will refer
rough sleepers to day centres to access advice rather than being
provided with a street service. But critics are concerned this may
result in a “scoop and run” service that will not engage the
hardest to reach.
A well-placed source told Community Care: “We are concerned that
rough sleepers will not get any proper assessment on the streets,
and those barred from day centres or too intimidated to go to them
will be left without a service.
“Outreach teams are being abolished because they are seen as an
incentive for people to remain on the streets, but there is a
significant population who are going to lose out. This is just
another example of a persistent culture of short-term thinking
where rough sleepers are concerned.”
The source accused Westminster of “throwing away” all the money
invested by the Rough Sleepers Unit to set up the existing outreach
teams in 1999. Teams were created across London with a £3.8m
budget, under the direction of the then homelessness tsar Louise
Casey. Westminster has the highest number of rough sleepers in
Britain, with the most recent government figures showing 175
Mike Tristam, director of homelessness charity the Simon Community
echoed the concerns. He warned the changes would lead to greater
exclusion of vulnerable people.
“We cannot abandon people simply because they do not want to, or
cannot, access day centres,” he said.
He also expressed concerns that the “street rescue” teams would not
be trained to deal with the complex needs of rough sleepers,
providing a “poor alternative” to the current outreach
Westminster insisted the changes were part of a “long-agreed
strategy” to help get rough sleepers off the streets and a response
to the “changing needs of the street culture”. It has invited day
centres to bid to run the new service from March next year, when
the outreach teams will be disbanded.
The council denied that the strategy was part of a “cost-cutting”