Former rough sleepers helping to get people off the streets of Lambeth and Southwark

By Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter

A charity using former rough sleepers to help get people off the streets has arrived in Lambeth and Southwark.

Street Buddies, which started in Westminster seven years ago, works with the most entrenched rough sleepers after referrals from the borough’s outreach workers when they cannot form a connection.

Volunteers have personal experience of homelessness, mental health challenges, or substance misuse, and can harness that to build strong connections with people living rough.

And it’s working – last year Street Buddies, created by the Riverside Housing Charity, helped get 30 per cent of the entrenched rough sleepers it engaged with in Westminster off the streets.

According to Trust for London, more than 400 people are rough sleeping in Lambeth, while more than 500 are on the streets of Southwark.

The Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) figures from April to June of this year show that 2,680 people were sleeping rough in London for the first time – a 77 per cent increase compared to the same period last year.

Street Buddies is now expanding after securing £212,000 from the Greater London Authority (GLA) and £56,000 from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea through the Government’s Rough Sleeper Initiative.

It also received £330,420 from the National Lottery Community Fund, £60,000 from Westminster council and £24,000 from the Church Housing Trust.

The programme, which is currently recruiting volunteers, rolled out in Kensington and Chelsea, Tower Hamlets, and City of London last month and is set to launch in Lambeth and Southwark by the end of October.

Trisha Stephens, now a Street Buddies co-ordinator, left home just before her 17th birthday and was homeless for a decade before becoming a volunteer in 2014.

She said: “When I joined Street Buddies, I felt like I finally belonged somewhere and I fitted in, it’s like a close-knit family.

“Street Buddies is about making connections with people. I found it helped having lived experience – one client wouldn’t engage with anyone apart from me.

“I managed to coax them to accept some clothes first which they wouldn’t have done before. I ended up helping that person into settled accommodation and it felt amazing.

“It takes time to build that relationship but it’s worth it in the end. Even now when I see that person, they still remember me and what I did for them.”

After volunteering for about a year with Street Buddies, Trisha applied for a 10-month paid traineeship with Riverside in a female hostel in Westminster.

She has since worked as a project assistant, support worker, a health needs navigator, and is now back at Street Buddies as a volunteer coordinator.

She said: “It’s been emotional to do a complete 360 and come back to where it all started.

“When I first started working with Riverside, I was on a reduction methadone script. Then in 2016 I applied for another role within the company at all-male hostel in Westminster and secured an interview, by then I had just taken my last dose of methadone.

“I was nervous because I didn’t have what I called my comfort pillow to make me feel better. I never thought in a billion years I’d be able to work while coming off methadone, but working helped me cope with any withdrawals I had during that period.

“Looking back from where I was seven years ago to what I’ve got now, not just my job but my home, a supportive partner, having my own money, not having to live off benefits, that in itself is … I can’t put it into words.

“I’m just so chuffed with myself and I’m proud I can show my family that I’m not a waste of space. It’s something I never thought I could do,” she said.

Trisha is now aiming to be in a management role.

Historically Street Buddies only worked with the most difficult and complex cases.

But following the Government’s ‘everyone in’ programme, which saw thousands of rough sleepers housed during the pandemic, it is also helping councils transfer people to long-term homes and to learn the practical skills to maintain them.

To apply to be a Street Buddies volunteer contact Karren at street.buddies@riverside.org.uk.

Pictured top: Street Buddies helped get 30 per cent of the entrenched rough sleepers it engaged with in Westminster off the streets last year


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