Rough Sleeping Through The Winter Ahead

A cold evening, 43 people in and 36 people through in 6 minutes according to the lovely ladies on the door. 

We had Broccoli Soup, two big pans of Chicken Curry, Green Beans, a Potato and a Tomato Salad. For a change we had fancy meringues kindly donated from Saddleback Farm with Cream, Coulis and Fruit. We did get comments that they were missing our staple hot desserts especially crumble, so that will be back on the menu next week. It was generally a quiet evening.  Everyone coming in was cold but in relatively good spirits. 

In this weather we have situations sometimes that rough sleepers come in ill or the cold weather exacerbates an ongoing medical condition. From donations given to us by the Community we are able to put someone who is rough sleeping into B&B for a night or two if we consider this is appropriate. This gives someone respite from the arduous day-to-day life that rough sleeping causes. A person is able to sleep, recharge their batteries, wash and have a hot cooked breakfast each day. We can organise to have their clothes washed also. This makes a person feel valued, supported and builds some strength to keep strong and fight emotions that rough sleeping causes. 

Sadly one of the rough sleepers we have helped recently came back to their tent to find that it had been thrown into the river. Luckily their clothes were being washed so most of their personal belongings were safe. Homelessness does not give feelings of safety and security. Shameful acts like this add to the emotional pressure for someone who has nothing. A tent is a person’s home, and their supposed “safe space”, not having somewhere safe to live or go to is emotionally destructive and chips away at a person mental health further. 

Wednesday last week was the first session for the Community Nurses to come to our new session 2-4pm at the Salvation Army Hall. We had one client come in and see the nurses, which shows the new information is getting around to the people that need it. The Police will work closely with us to during these sessions, as we will have fewer volunteers each week with this service. Occasionally we will be working with people with complex issues therefore safeguarding and safety is paramount for all. We are so pleased however to be able to offer this service now on a Wednesday. 

During last year’s ‘Beast from the East” when temperatures dropped well below zero, Councils around the country enacted the severe weather emergency accommodation protocol. Shelters were set up to ensure no one had to sleep out in the dangerous conditions — and yet, people still did.

Speaking with people on the streets and support workers there seem to a number of reasons why people do not take up such offers. In major towns and cities it can make it harder to return to the streets as a person might feel they will lose their sleeping or begging spot when they do; shelters are crowded and rough sleepers don’t always make for good bunk mates; a person may have feel they have been let down by or distrust support services; it may mean accepting rules and a person may not want to do that; or it may be simply a person is too embarrassed to ask for or accept help. If police are involved in making the approach or visit the hostel regularly this may cause unsettled feeling due to existing tensions getting in the way.

Why do some people who have previously spent years rough sleeping but have been given accommodation still choose to occasionally sleep outside again?

There are often two “fallacies” of the public’s understanding of homelessness in winter weather. This is that a town or city will let people on the streets go hungry; the other is that there are financial barriers to getting into the homelessness hostels. There is a third factor and this is the “Push and Pull factor”.

For rough sleepers, push factors include being asked or forced to leave accommodation, choosing to leave unsuitable accommodation, and rules such as not allowing couples, pets or excessive demands. 

While these factors are usually not enough on their own to cause a person to leave, they grow and multiply over time to have a larger impact on a decision to leave accommodation and return to the street.

Pull factors are strong; perhaps this is because a person feels more competent in everyday survival skills on the streets. This for them will be compared to feeling incompetent they feel when having to managing a tenancy and bills. A person may feel “addicted” to street life along with boredom and loneliness in a tenancy compared to living with a sense of community on the streets.

Together the push and pull factors can exert a pressure for a person to return to rough sleeping. For some it is as a result of a “fight or flight response as they feel there’s no other alternative.

Some people have been asking us where the White Staffordshire Bull Terrier that sits on the bridge has gone. We would like to inform everyone that he is safe and well and being fostered at the moment until he can hopefully go back to his owner. He is warm, safe and happy and has a lovely big garden to run around in and gets lots of walks and attention.

This week a few of us went to West Berkshire Brewery for their firework event. We were lucky enough to receive the proceeds of the raffle, of which was very popular.  We would like to say a huge Thank you to all the wonderful local companies that gave us generous prizes; we have been very touched by your generosity. 

West Berkshire Brewery made us feel very welcome and a good evening was had by all. Christmas is coming and the weather is turning, please remember to keep our communities rough sleepers warm with hot drinks and food.