3,000+ connections and counting

Wednesday, 16 October 2013 - 1:49pm

What progress has StreetLink made since it was launched last December?

Connecting people sleeping rough to local services

On a freezing day last December, StreetLink went live.

The idea was simple on paper. Could we harness the huge concern amongst the public about rough sleeping, using technology to connect individuals to local help?

The back story

Our research indicates that nearly half of rough sleepers end up on the streets without seeking help. And the longer they remain out, the greater the risk they will harm their health.

Sleeping rough can not only result in long-term physical health problems. Feeling lonely and rejected, many who end up sleeping rough develop mental health issues and can turn to drugs or alcohol as a form of escape. 

The experience of charities across England is that, the longer someone remains without help, the more complex their problems are likely to become. But finding individuals is by no means easy.

Rough sleepers may not be known to local services because they remain out of sight, bedding down at different times of day or night, and moving from place to place.

This is where the idea for StreetLink came in. No Second Night Out pilots in London and Liverpool had shown that involving the public could result in more individuals being found, more quickly and helped off the streets.

Our own polling also told us that over half of the public wanted to help individuals they saw sleeping rough but did not know what practical action they could take.

Getting there

With money from the Department of Communities and Local Government and the Greater London Authority and with the help of our sister charity Broadway, StreetLink was established.

Councils are responsible for providing help for rough sleepers. So we asked every local authority in England to tell us who alerts from the public should be sent to. We also built a website, phone app and set up a hot-line to enable the public to report individuals they are concerned about.

But the work this involved has been more than worth it.

The results to date

Beth, a youth work manager, is just one of thousands of people who have used StreetLink.

“There are lots of rough sleepers where I work in Hackney and there is a lot of concern about the issue in the community. There was one individual in particular that I saw in the same place every day and I could tell from looking at him that his health was really in a bad way.

“I’d seen a poster for StreetLink so one day, when I got to work, I decided I would get in touch and get him some help. It was really simple – I just entered some basic details about his location and physical appearance and that was it.

"He wasn’t there two days later and StreetLink emailed me to say they had made contact with him."

So far we have been able to send over 8,000 alerts to local services and know of 3,000+ individuals who are in contact with local advice and support because the people like Beth cared enough to take action.

Not all plain sailing

The journey has not been easy. The phone-line has been swamped on occasion, with the public unable to get through.

The help available in every area is different. So this has meant some councils not acting on alerts or a slow response from some areas that don’t have homeless outreach teams.

And of course people do move, so services have often arrived in a location and found no one there.

Then there are the cases where someone appears to be sleeping rough, may be engaged in activity, such as drinking or begging, but actually has somewhere to stay.

This can be frustrating for the public. You’ve gone to the trouble of using the service and want to see action taken. While 86% of people who have used the service would recommend it to others, making the connection does not always happen smoothly.

Every action you take is worth it

However, every contact is worth it. If someone is not found the first time, service at least knows they should be looking.

So far know of at least 470 individuals have been housed as a result of alerts sent by public, so please keep on helping to make connections.

Talk To Us

Matt Harrison

Matt Harrison

Director of business and social enterprise

Matt oversees our finances and central services functions and all our income-generation activity, including In-Form and fundraising. He is also responsible for our StreetLink service, a 24/7 website and phone line to enable members of the public to connect rough sleepers to local services. Matt was the chief executive of a specialist information charity that joined with Homeless Link in 2009. His background is in advice centres, day centres and hostels for homeless people in Coventry and London.

Telephone: 020 7840 4462
Email: matt.harrison@homelesslink.org.uk
Twitter: @homelesslink