Centre premises for safety

    I work in a day centre with homeless people.
    Many of the people who use the centre misuse drugs. Following the
    Wintercomfort case, I’m worried about the situation this places me
    in – I don’t want to be arrested for doing my job. What should I
    do?

    While there are clearly lessons to be learned
    from the Wintercomfort case, we should not get distracted by the
    facts of the case and there is certainly no need for panic.

    The circumstances at Wintercomfort were unique
    – the result of a combination of events which could have been
    avoided. There are in excess of 600 day centres across the UK,
    helping hundreds of people every day, many of whom will be misusing
    drugs, and this is the first time a prosecution of this nature has
    been brought.

    Wintercomfort was a tragic case. Ruthless drug
    dealers targeted the project resulting in the loss of life in and
    around the centre. Two workers spent time in prison.

    The only positive we can hope for is that we
    learn from the failures at the centre and ensure that a prosecution
    of this type never happens again.

    Most importantly, we must not stop working
    with homeless drug misusers. This is why the rough sleepers unit
    have worked with Drugscope to provide advice to projects working
    with homeless people who misuse drugs. The Wintercomfort case need
    never happen again. But we must confront the realities of what
    happened there and follow some basic ground rules:

    – Drug dealers prey on vulnerable homeless
    people and target the projects they use. To protect their clients,
    agencies must develop robust drug policies and procedures and apply
    them rigorously.

    – Make sure everyone knows what your policies
    are, including users.

    – Confidentiality policies are not above the
    law. They should never be a reason to excuse, to permit or to turn
    a blind eye to illegal drug dealing. Staff must not hide behind
    paper policies or their management committee. They have to act if
    the law is being broken and contact the police.

    – Staff should be fully equipped to work with
    drug misusers. They should have a working understanding of section
    8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1981 and they should be able to
    recognise the signs associated with drug misuse, including overdose
    and withdrawal. Work with the local drug action teams to develop
    good policy and practice.

    – Agencies that operate as a drop-in service
    see new faces each and every day. But the agency should take steps
    to monitor new arrivals. Who are they? What are their needs? If you
    have suspicions, act on them.

    – Maintain effective relationships with the
    police. Adopt a protocol with local police on dealing with
    drug-related incidents. If an incident occurs the police must
    decide what action to take.

    – Be pro-active at all levels. Do not just
    write a drugs policy – implement it. Management committees must
    take the role of a critical friend. Ensure that staff and
    volunteers are encouraged to speak openly about their concerns –
    “whistle blowers” can save lives. Agencies should be pro-active in
    the management of their local environment. If drug dealing occurs
    on the doorstep, the agency has a responsibility to deal with
    it.

    The rough sleepers unit has funded Drug-scope
    to set up a homelessness and drugs unit to give advice and guidance
    to staff working with homeless drug users.

    This is not rocket science and it is nothing
    new. Projects across the country successfully implement drug
    policies each and every day. We must focus on developing policies
    that protect staff and keep the drug dealers out. Above all else we
    must be determined to continue working within the law to help
    homeless people who misuse drugs.

    – Drugscope have produced two good
    practice guides, Homelessness and Drugs: Managing Incidents and
    Homelessness and Drugs: Access to Drug Treatment
    . Available
    from Drugscope on 020 7928 1211 or

    www.drugscope.org.uk

    Ian Brady is assistant director of the
    rough sleepers unit.

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