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TRCH David Suchet

Homelessness in Nottingham

17 April 13 words: Penny Reeve
illustrations: Judit Ferencz

Nottingham has kept its ‘rough sleeping’ numbers well below the national average. What’s happening differently here to elsewhere?

In January homeless people in London began giving walking tours. These tours are known as ‘unseen tours’, which seems appropriate as homeless people are often just that - hidden, ignored and on the margins of society. As you’re making your way home of an evening to your warm houses on a freezing Wednesday night, do you ever consider that there are people sleeping in the graveyard you’ve just driven past? If you come across someone that looks like they may be sleeping rough, how many of you take time to help them, or lend them an ear? Before you roll your eyes and flip the page, we’re not going to preach but we thought it was about time that we shed some light on what goes down on the streets of Nottingham.

Surprisingly, the estimated lifespan of someone without a home is 47 - that’s about thirty years less than for housed folk. Even more surprising is that it’s more common than we’d like to think that on Friday and Saturday nights after a skinful, people have been known to finish their night off by using a homeless person as a punchbag. Mark, who was formerly homeless told me, “I was sleeping rough by a derelict shop beneath some student accommodation. One night they saw me going to bed and threw bottles of piss over me.” It not being the nineteenth century, it’s hard to imagine lobbing your piss out of a window, let alone at someone.

What is homelessness?

Homelessness is a scale. Many homeless people never end up sleeping outside, but instead sleep on friends’ sofas, unsuitable accommodation or in supported housing. The definition of ‘rough sleeping’ is a complicated one and has often come under fire, but the current guideline, penned by the charity Crisis, is: “People sleeping, about to bed down in the open air and people in buildings or other places not designed for habitation.”
 
One of the problems of homelessness is the public perception of how people get into the predicament. Is it usually because they spent all their money on drugs and alcohol? There’s no  denying that drugs, alcohol and homelessness do frequently go hand in hand, but addiction is  often a symptom of being on the streets, rather than the initial reason. “My boyfriend was also  my best friend and his death tore my whole world apart,” said Rosaleen, who was helped by  Nottingham charity, Framework. “I was grieving and was just not in control of my life anymore. I tried to go back to work but I just couldn’t do it and broke down. I knew I couldn’t handle it.” Luckily, there was a positive end to Rosaleen’s story as she got the help she needed in time. But that isn’t the case for many others.
 
Keeping the numbers down

We might be a relatively small city that’s recently faced a lot of budget cuts, but Nottingham is  kicking ass in the homeless and vulnerable people area and has a whole lot of positive stories to share of people turning their lives around. Although recently there has been a national increase in homelessness of 26%, in the last two years we have consistently maintained low ‘sleeping out’ figures. Latest stats listed just seven people on the streets of Nottingham.
 
So how does the city keep its rough sleeping headcount so low? Jason Marriott of Framework’s Street Outreach Team seems to appreciate the council’s approach to rough sleepers, “Some local  authorities are not bothered because it’s a small amount of people, whereas in Nottingham there is an aim to completely end rough sleeping. This city is held up nationally for the way we tackle rough sleeping and I think the city council should be praised for the support they show.”

Jason is being pretty modest by all counts. If you know the name but not what it’s about,  Framework is a charity who support people who present as homeless, or who are vulnerably  housed, offering them support services, return-to-work schemes and hostel spaces. As an offshoot of Framework, the Street Outreach Team, who have a tiny staff of just thirteen, work with rough and potentially rough sleepers in Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire to make sure that they engage with vital services and are off the streets as quickly as possible.
 
A hand up not a hand out

I questioned Jason on the issue of beggars that can always found hanging around by cash  machines at 2am at the weekends. “There are a few beggars and some of them have been, or will be, homeless but really it’s unusual for a rough sleeper to beg. More often it’s just part of a story.”
 
There is a street drinking and begging task force who work closely alongside the Outreach Team and Nottingham’s street pastors, so more likely than not the beggar you see in town is known to the service and not classed as needing somewhere to bed down that night.

Out on the streets

We were invited to take a trip around Nottingham city centre with Sam, the Street Outreach Team’s team leader. We met at the left lion at 6am on a -30C morning and armed with coffee and torches we headed off for a tour of Nottingham’s homeless hotspots. For the record, there were no cars - no warming heat from an engine for me. Sometimes a vehicle is used for the outskirts of the city, or if someone needs to be referred quickly but otherwise buses, bikes and good old reliable legs are the favoured modes of transport.
 
I was told that places I knew and walked past every day were places that people liked to sleep.  Stories of people sleeping in hedges, caves (although now cordoned off, the caves under the castle were a favourite), graveyards and old restaurants abounded. It was snowing on the morning of our outing and Sam told me about the government’s Severe Weather Emergency Protocol, which states that if the temperature is below zero on three consecutive nights, emergency accommodation must be made for all street sleepers. Luckily, on our outing we found just one guy who declined the team’s offer of a hostel with a very blunt, “I’m warm” and refusal to chat to us any more than that. Personally, I couldn’t see how he was warm in the makeshift bed he’d made, but I was told that some of the more entrenched rough sleepers will actually choose street sleeping over accommodation. This is possibly because they have problems with trusting various services, or that they don’t want the hassle of moving into a house down the line and having to remember and keep up to date with rent, bills and claiming money each week.
 
“Sometimes it’s difficult for people to engage for whatever reasons,” Jason told us, “But then  we work with them on a personalised approach; we will have one member of staff working with  them quite intensively, looking at all the different options for them.” We hung around the rough  sleeper for a few minutes and then went on our way – there’s no point trying to force a response from someone who doesn’t want to be helped. We gave him a Framework card, so if he changed his mind he’d know exactly who to call. As he was known to the team, his details would be on the system meaning he wouldn’t need to go through a million questions before getting the help he needed.
 
Beyond the street

After our walk, which involved covering a big part of the city, following leads and checking hotspots, we headed to the office. Sam updated the records for the gent that we’d met, wrote  detailed notes on where we had visited and what we had found and then emailed the council to  update them so that they had an idea of the events of the previous night as soon as their doors opened. We did all of this before 9am. When Sam told me that he was made of coffee that time in the morning, he wasn’t lying. As I left, he was on his way to a meeting, and not anticipating leaving work until 5pm. All in a day’s work.


Each person in the city that presents as a rough sleeper, whether through the Outreach Team or other means, will be dealt with through the Gateway system. Launched to some controversy in April 2007, in order to help services in Nottingham quickly and effectively house those in need, it has become a godsend to charities helping to home people. Jason explains, “In simple terms, it is a way to stop over-assessing people; instead of submitting an assessment to the Salvation Army, London Road, the YMCA, we now just have one form which goes to a central place, where they identify the best option for that referral. It also challenges cherry picking and asks why places have refused a person, and on what grounds. There used to be a high level of entrenched rough sleepers that places just weren’t taking a chance on, so the gateway challenges this.”

Rehousing

There are only a certain amount of supported housing places, however, and with the aforementioned budget cuts of up to 45% hitting Nottingham’s homeless and vulnerable people, what happens when there is no room left? “Because of the cuts we’ve had to look at much wider options like in the private rented sector.” Jason tells me. “We’ll look at bond and rent deposits but it depends on our assessment and if a specific person will maintain a tenancy; you don’t want to set people up to fail. If they have to rough sleep a little longer to wait for that supported accommodation, then that’s, in the long run, better for them.”

Private sector housing is pretty expensive though, and Framework rely heavily on donations. Through donations the team were able to fund a post on a pilot basis, which is the only one in the country and began in September last year. Jason explained: “Our resettlement worker, Charlotte, will follow newly housed cases up after one week, four weeks and eight weeks and at any point she’ll step in with intensive support to prevent them coming back to our team”. Between October and December last year 180 people received support from Charlotte. To complement the donations, Street Outreach were recently awarded £124,000 through the government’s new Homelessness Transition Fund, to improve their services further; which meant that a phone line could be installed to give the public a link to the team on a 24 hour basis – now, if anyone sees a rough sleeper, at any time during the day, they can contact the team straight away.

Nottingham too attractive a prospect?

The whole homelessness set up in Nottingham does look pretty great, which raises the question of whether people will come from all over to be housed quickly and efficiently – if you’ve got to wait three months somewhere else, it’s would be worth trying your luck here. I was assured that this isn’t the case, thanks to Framework’s supported reconnection scheme, which sees rough sleepers from different areas sent back to where they came. No, this isn’t some kind of dystopian system where people are hunted down and thrown back out of the city gates; the team make sure that people are connected with support services where they originate from. Be it Birmingham or Bulgaria (the team have two foreign speakers, meaning that they can assist some EU Nationals straight away without having to wait for an interpreter) there is a specific action plan in place for when they return to their home city, which the Outreach Team will chase up. No one gets away from the watchful eye of these guys that easily.

To report a street sleeper telephone the street outreach team on 0800 0665356.

Homeless organistions in Nottingham

Framework


Based in Nottingham, Framework is now helping people out across the whole of the East Midlands and parts of South Yorkshire. There’s a lot more to what they do than we’ve covered in this article – their outside the box thinking also includes setting up the awesome independent record shop The Music Exchange to raise revenue and offer people a route back into work.
Val Roberts House, 25 Gregory Boulevard, NG7 6NX. 0115 841 7711
Framework website

Emmanuel House

Based in Hockley near Nottingham Arena, Emmanuel House offers support to homeless and vulnerable people by providing advice, encouragement and daily support services. If you want to help them on a practical level then they will gladly accept donations of old shoes, new underwear and various other useful items. They take online donations through justgiving.
53-61 Goose Gate, NG1 1FE. 0115 950 7140
Emmanuel House website

The Big Issue

Everyone’s heard of The Big Issue magazine and hopefully you’ve bought it once or twice too. If you want to get more involved, they accept volunteers in their offices across the country. At the time of going to print they were seeking a Romanian speaker to help liaise between vendors and support staff.
Wedgewood House, 68 Carlton Road, NG3 2AP.
Big Issue website

Base 51

Specifically supporting Nottingham’s younger people, Base 51 offers structured support and drop in services to people aged 12 - 25 with emphasis on keeping kids away from homelessness by providing a ‘wrap around’ service which includes health services, meals and learning support. Base 51 is also the main partner in a new initiative, NGYmyplace, which provides facilities including a gym, recording studio and cafe for kids aged 13 - 19.
29-31 Castle Gate NG1 7AR. 0115 952 5040

Notts Housing Advice

Formerly known as Shelter, Notts Housing Advice can give supported advice and assistance to those living in Nottingham city centre. This includes bond deposits, unlawful eviction claims and rent arrears. Nottinghamshire residents can also get a help guide to access services outside of the city.
Archer House, Castle Gate, Nottingham, NG1 7AW. 0845 2414 515

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