Working towards ending street homelessness in East Surrey

Support worker Boni introduces us to the work being done towards ending street homelessness in East Surrey

Working towards ending street homelessness in East Surrey

East Surrey Outreach Service (ESOS) covers four boroughs within a large expanse of East Surrey. Their work combines outreach and support work to help people sleeping rough in towns including Reigate, Dorking, Epsom, Leatherhead, Redhill, Oxted, Horley, Ewell, Caterham, and Ashtead. 

Support worker Boni talks us through a day in the life of working at ESOS. 

“We are an outreach service attached to the East Surrey area, and cover four boroughs: Tandridge, Epsom & Ewell, Mole Valley, and Reigate & Banstead.  

“I usually start my day by planning my diary, figuring out which appointments I’m having with people in my caseload. As the areas we cover can be miles apart, I try to organise my appointments accordingly, and visit people who are fairly close to each other in the same afternoon, for example. Our team conducts street outreach as well as ongoing casework with the people we are helping. We sometimes work with people who are experiencing different types of homelessness, such as sofa-surfing, so we’re flexible and supportive in our approach. We work closely with local councils and have built strong relationships that allow us to advocate for people trying to access necessities such as emergency housing. 

“Within ESOS, we have regular team meetings where we discuss successes, incidents, and training that we are keen to undertake to help us in our roles. Of course, we are all different and have different strengths, so working in a closely-knit team allows us to learn from each other and make the right connections to work towards ending street homelessness in East Surrey. 

“I really value the face-to-face side of my work, and think it is vital in establishing the trust needed to help people off the streets. When advocating for people with agencies such as drug and alcohol support or mental health services, my approach is to remind these organisations of people’s particular vulnerabilities. There isn’t one single or guaranteed route for helping everyone we meet. I go to hubs across the East Surrey area and speak to people who might be homeless and unknown to us. There is so much stigma around becoming homeless, and a simple friendly conversation can really help people open up about what they’re going through and what they might need. 

“One person I am working with at the moment is Mike*. He is entrenched, which means he has been sleeping rough for a long time and that is now his lifestyle; he makes it work for him, but this does not take away from the fact that sleeping rough is life-threateningly dangerous, regardless of how secure the setup might seem. Mike has been sleeping in a supermarket car park and is known to the local community and has a good relationship with passers-by, as well as employees from the supermarket. Despite having no fixed address, he is known to the adult social care team regarding his own support needs, including high functioning Schizophrenia, but he is refusing help. I travel to where he is to do a welfare check weekly and in severe weather Mike is checked daily. In that time, his engagement with ESOS has definitely improved. We have started to take him a hot lunch, which he now accepts from us, which is a positive step. Helping him come off the streets is going to be a long process, but one thing I know I’m good at is calling people in and speaking loudly for my clients when it’s needed. I’ve started working with a psychologist who is going to meet with Mike during one of my upcoming welfare visits, and I’m hopeful that this will be a big step towards finding Mike the right type of accommodation and support for his needs. 

“I believe in not giving up on people, regardless of engagement. If someone doesn’t want to engage with our services, that is up to them, but I will make repeat welfare checks and try to provide things like food, water, and a friendly face, to make their situation a little easier, until they feel ready to engage and take up the support to come off the streets.”