The double deckers

When Cardiff Council’s city centre team travelled to London to attend the Community Care Awards ceremony, they did it in style – with the team and service users in the converted double decker bus that helps them work with vulnerable rough sleepers in the city.

The city centre rough sleepers team, which won the inter-agency category, is a multidisciplinary team set up in 1996 to respond to the growing number of people sleeping rough. Steve Hyde, manager of the team, explains that outreach workers had realised that those in greatest need were not getting the services they needed.

“We also began to realise that there was concern outside of social care about the problem of rough sleepers, and that if the will was there we could harness the desire for change to improve services,” he says.

The team pulled together an impressive list of partner agencies to improve services.

Hyde cites NCP as a good example of a company they have worked closely with. “NCP wants the same thing as we do – they don’t want rough sleepers or drug users in their car parks. NCP has been brought in as a partner. Now they don’t panic if someone is sleeping in one of their car parks for a day or two because they know we will be able to do something to help,” he says.

The multidisciplinary team was already offering outreach services, social, housing and education services and a district nurse for homeless people, but the bus enables them to take services to clients who are often hidden from view.

Cardiff Bus donated and maintains the double decker, and funding from Barclays Bank enabled them to convert it and equip it as a mobile outreach centre. South Wales Police has sponsored a member of staff for the winter and the Salvation Army has provided staff to work with the project. The National Canine Defence league helps out with leaflets giving advice on dog care. British Transport Police also assists.

The bus has running water, electricity, a seating area, kitchen, toilet and a consulting room. It has a TV, a wireless internet connection, which allows the team to access council databases, and is in constant contact with the police through a Radionet link. “The bus is a perfect way to contact people who are sleeping rough in the city and also to make sure they get what they need. If they need a community care assessment, they can have one on the bus. We can do a housing application online, and we use e-Roof, which is an internet-based hostel vacancy system,” Hyde explains.

The bus is out four nights a week and is taken to a spot near the civic centre in Cardiff, which is a popular place for rough sleepers. They also take it to any part of the city where it is needed.

Hyde says the problems of this group are predictable and is critical of the dearth of services for them nationally. “Why is it that only Cardiff has its social services working so closely with people on the streets?” he asks. “Most people don’t see them as a core group and there is still tremendous discrimination against them when allocating services. I feel like the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff when I should be the fence at the top.”

The prize money will help to develop services, and the team is looking at beefing up public health services and introducing tuberculosis screening, flu jabs and a needle exchange. Hyde is also looking at the possibility of having a safe injecting facility.

Winning the award has been the climax to his career. “I have read Community Care since I was little more than a teenager 30 years ago. Winning the award was indescribable – I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes even now,” he says.

“The team sometimes feels that their work goes unnoticed so to get an award of this sort that recognises the great work they do is fantastic and they are all very proud and absolutely thrilled.”

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