The ISEU project is taking street outreach to the next level, says Peter Burleigh.
I’ve been going into hostels, working with homeless people to provide substance misuse support for Turning Point around the Westminster area over five years, but the ISEU project is different. This is outreach on the streets and frontline partnership working in Central London.
ISEU (the Integrated Street Engagement Unit) includes staff from Turning Point, Westminster City Council, the Metropolitan Police, The Connection at St Martins-in-the-Fields (a day centre run by a homelessness charity), The Passage (which operates London’s largest voluntary sector resource centre for homeless and vulnerable people), and the Compass team and street outreach (St Mungo’s outreach services). It’s an innovative project combining integrated health, housing and social care support in order to provide effective routes off the street, with the goal of helping some of the most vulnerable to turn their lives around.
We plan our operations for the upcoming week every Friday, and these can include tent removals, antisocial behaviour enforcement, begging or tackling organised crime. On some days there will be no specific operation and we will go out solely to engage the street homeless and offer social care, medical health and substance misuse support. ISEU recognises that enforcement isn’t the most effective way to support people who are sleeping rough, and that long-term we need to be addressing the wider needs of every individual. In every operation there will be a minimum of two plain-clothed police officers who are trained to work specifically as part of ISEU, a city inspector, myself and other partners, depending on the nature of the operation. On larger operations we can have teams of up to 15 people.
When we approach an individual of interest, unless it is a targeted specific police operation (where there is no need for substance misuse expertise), I often lead in approaching and engaging them into conversation. Nine times out of ten, people are willing to have a chat and are receptive. In some cases we’re faced with challenging clients who are treatment resistant and will refuse support, and this is usually to do with trust. Every situation is different, but being cautious and confident is key.
When we are engaging with someone, it’s important we try to find out the individual’s name, age, whether they are currently in a hostel, whether they have been to a day centre, if they have any medical needs and if they are having any problems with drugs or alcohol. When we have a name we can check this against CHAIN, a multi-agency database recording information about people sleeping rough and the wider street population in London. This enables us to see if the person is seeking any health and social care support from services or charities – if they are not on the database I will give them the details of Connections at St Martins, a day centre where they can register for support services.
Since April 2018 I have engaged with 112 clients, with heroin, cocaine and spice being the most commonly used drugs. Age and gender vary – women often have more complex needs, but can also be more engaged with support. At present I am working with 33 active clients, while 23 have already completed treatment and are waiting for – or are already in – housing. Meanwhile, 18 have dropped out and nine have been referred to Turning Point’s drug and alcohol wellbeing service to address substance misuse.
I visit Passage House every week, a 28-day assessment centre for those who have been sleeping rough in Westminster but are not from the borough. Passage House is designed to provide a safe, flexible and supportive environment, and the service uses a trauma-informed approach. Every client has their own room and a designated lead worker. You must be referred by one of the outreach teams, but Passage House offers a wrap-around service, working with people to help them plan a route off the street that is sustainable in the long term.
One of the main challenges we face is reminding individuals that things can’t just happen overnight. Getting the right support in place for housing, medical needs, employment, benefits and so on takes time and often requires multiple appointments that need to be attended. We are here to support people in the most efficient way possible, but this also requires mutual understanding and dedication. If people show up on time to appointments progress can be made, but when people don’t show up sometimes it means we end up back at square one.
ISEU works really well because every person and organisation brings different skill sets and knowledge, with the same collective aim and commitment to meet it. Prior to ISEU outreach happened in hostels and supported accommodation but the rough sleepers who weren’t already seeking any provision were difficult to reach.
I learnt very early on in my career that I have to be able to enjoy my own life outside of this job and not let it impact my personal life – that being said you can’t do it if you don’t love it, and I have a real passion to help improve people’s lives. I wouldn’t change it for the world.