Volunteering with Lambeth Safer Streets Team
Sian Thomas is our Sub-Regional Services Manager, she recently volunteered with our Lambeth Safer Streets Team on their annual street count.
On 21 November, I volunteered with the Lambeth Safer Streets team on their annual street count. The street count takes place to give an accurate number of those men and women living on the streets in the Borough of Lambeth. I was really excited to spend more time with the team outside of a meeting setting and get fully involved in what they do on a daily basis.
I went to the office on Bondway for 11pm and met the team who were already there. There was an electric, excitable air amongst the team who were enjoying pizzas and planning their routes. I discovered I was to be teamed up with outreach worker, Jordan Romer who has been with Change Grow Live for nine months and that we would be tackling Waterloo South.
We finished our pizzas and walked over to Martha house – a vulnerable adults' hostel, five minutes from the office. There, we met other volunteers for the evening - staff from the LAC (Lambeth Assessment Centre) St Mungos, MHCLG (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) and also the council; including our commissioner, Emma Casey. We had a briefing by the Lambeth street population co-ordinator and, at midnight, we set off to our designated areas.
Jordan and I first met a gentleman in the gardens of Guy’s and St Thomas' hospital who, devastatingly, was a double amputee in a wheelchair. He was with a friend and assured us he had a sofa to sleep on that night. He informed us that there was a gentlemen up the road who was sleeping on the concrete pavement with just a sleeping bag over him. It was -1 degrees. We went over and Jordan recognised the man as someone they regularly try to engage with, who is not interested in the support. We had a conversation and he reassured us that he was fine and did not need any support. After 10 minutes, we moved on.
Next we headed over to Upper Marsh under the railway bridge, where Jordan informed me that there was a large Romanian population. When we approached, it was clear there was an established community living here – even a cardboard partition separating the females from the males out of privacy. We started talking to the one gentleman who spoke little English, and Jordan had pre-printed key sentences in Romanian, explaining what we were doing and why. With a little help from google translate, we soon understood that they all worked for very little money and lived here. Some talked of wanting to go back to Romania. Some mentioned Brexit and the impact. They ate chicken sandwiches and drank wine. Jordan told me that if we came back at 6am they would be gone - off to work for the day. It was very sad.
We said that we would arrange a Romanian translator to come back to further understand their needs. Some of the men sleeping were becoming a little irritated by our presence so we moved on. The rest of the night we spent looking over park fences, round corners where makeshift houses were made from tents and places where the team had received referrals from the public including a rose bush in private flats. These weren’t the only people we met on our journey. There were also people we came across who were evidently street homeless, but who, for their own reasons, did not want to engage with us. We made our way back to the office where the council verifier took our completed forms outlining who we had seen that evening. It was then time to go home and get some sleep.
The whole experience was truly humbling for three reasons. Firstly, because the endless enthusiasm and optimism of the team throughout the whole evening was awe-inspiring. They do this every day – morning and night. I asked Jordan and Arafat, another outreach worker, why they did this job. Aside from their core reason of helping people furthest from mainstream society, they liked the spontaneity – every day being different and the excitement of meeting new people. I cannot wait to go out with them again.
Secondly, because of the team’s efforts, three people were off the street for the night and into accommodation – hopefully for good. What an incredible outcome. And lastly, but most importantly, talking to and engaging with the most vulnerable in our society. To hear their stories and to learn how quickly and easily any of us could become street homeless, was extremely hard hitting. Thankfully, the SST team are dedicated and caring, with a vehement passion to support these men and women to get off the streets for good. Thank you to Chantelle and her team for allowing me to volunteer with you and all of those involved.