Thames Reach's mission to end rough sleeping in London

City of London outreach team helping person sleeping rough

In this insightful contribution, Charley Matthews, manager of the Thames Reach City of London Outreach team, shares the profound work being done in partnership with StreetLink to support individuals experiencing rough sleeping.

I’m Charley Matthews, the manager of the Thames Reach City of London Outreach team. Our team works to support people who are sleeping rough in the City of London (‘the Square Mile’) to find accommodation and bring an end to their homelessness. We carry out shifts on the streets every day of the year, identifying people who need our help and offering them a route off the streets as quickly as possible.

Identification and verification

There are two main strands to our work: our shifts and our ongoing casework. Our shifts either run in the early morning or in the late evening, so that we are meeting people at the place where they are sleeping. During these shifts we are often responding to referrals we have received from StreetLink, visiting sites where members of the public or local partners have seen people sleeping rough. When we meet someone, we ask them some questions to assess what support they might need and what the quickest route to housing would be for them.

The process of an Outreach team meeting someone bedded down as rough sleeping is called ‘verification’. This gives someone a profile on the Pan-London rough sleeping database, CHAIN. There are some resources and accommodation options that are reserved for people who are verified as rough sleepers.

Meeting the individual’s needs

When someone is rough sleeping in the City of London they are allocated to a worker in our team. The professional works with the person to identify a housing solution that works for them and supports them to access other services that might be preventing them from accessing or sustaining accommodation. We work closely with a wide range of partners including those in mental health, employment, drug & alcohol support, immigration advice, & primary health. A significant part of our work includes supporting people to navigate the paperwork for welfare benefits, access to banking, and obtaining identification.

The individuals we support have a diverse range of backgrounds and needs. Some have become homeless due to precarious employment breaking down and only require brief support to regain stability. For others their homelessness is more long-term and has its roots in adverse childhood experiences, resulting in a frequently complex picture of overlapping support needs which can make it very difficult for them to access housing and support. Particularly for this group, often a number of failed attempts to support the person have already been made by different agencies over their life, for example by social services, health teams, or other outreach teams. Understandably, this can leave the person feeling let down by support services, and unwilling to trust a new team to succeed in supporting their change where others have failed.

Sometimes, individuals referred to StreetLink might initially be hesitant to work with us. This can be for various reasons, including their readiness to accept help, their preference for resources or shelter, mental health challenges, or unique personal circumstances. However, once we know that someone is sleeping rough, we continue to return and offer our support, having clear and honest conversations about what their quickest route away from the streets will be. We change this route if a person's needs change, and we never close a case for a person who is actively rough sleeping.

We try our best to work with people in a way which puts them at the centre of their own support. This means that when we’re working, we’re responding to the person in front of us, and tailoring our work to what each person wants and needs.

What success looks like

As a team, we’re very busy, usually working with 90-100 individuals at a time. Success for us comes in lots of different ways: it can be supporting a someone into emergency accommodation as soon as they’ve been verified, or it can be supporting someone else return to and resettle in a location or community where they have a network of support.

The vital role of StreetLink

StreetLink is at the core of our work. It allows us to identify and locate people who need our support in a rapid and efficient way. The more detail a referrer can put into their referral in terms of location and identifying information, the more likely that we as a team are able to find them.

Help us make a difference

Rough sleeping in the City of London has been increasing, as it has been across the UK, as the housing crisis deepens housing becomes more difficult to access and more precarious. Outreach teams often act as the support service of last resort. Using StreetLink is a great way for you to participate in our work, and to support people who are sleeping rough to get rapid and personalised help. If you’d like to find out more about the work that we do, you can join us as a volunteer on our Outreach shifts by volunteering with Thames Reach here:

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