Francis’s story

After finding himself homeless at the height of the pandemic, Francis has been housed and supported through our PLACE team

Francis’s story

Francis was in hospital undergoing an oper­ation on an infected leg when the friend he’d been staying with told him he needed to find somewhere else to live.

On leaving hospital and returning to the flat, Fran­cis found that his friend had changed the locks and he was left sitting in the road on his crutches. This was during the summer of 2020, during the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, and Francis had nowhere else to go.

He initially spent some time moving between dif­ferent hostels before coming into contact with our PLACE team — Pan London Accommodation & Community Engagement — who work with people who have been staying in temporary accommoda­tion and have been referred to Thames Reach by a local authority. The team helps people to access private rented accommodation across London, and provides initial support once the client has moved in.

PLACE were able to help Francis find a flat of his own, as well as helping him to furnish it, sort out bills and administrative issues, and provide further support to get him back on his feet.

‘When I first moved in here I didn’t have a bed, furniture, a washing machine, nothing,’ he says. ‘They’ve helped me get all of these things, though. I’ve got my own home now, which I’ve never really had before. Now my children can come to see me, my son comes to stay with me on weekends. That didn’t happen when I was in hostels.’

While Francis is still troubled by his leg, he’s recovered enough to work part time now, and mentally is in the best place he’s been in for a long time. His goal now is to learn a new trade.

How are Thames Reach helping people move on from street homelessness in the City of London?

Thames Reach took over the City of London outreach service in November 2020, and the collaborative work taking place in the square mile is allowing the team to support people sleeping rough in the most effective way possible. We spoke with lead manager Rowan Wyllie about this ongoing work.

How are Thames Reach helping people move on from street homelessness in the City of London?

How has the City of London outreach been going since Thames Reach took over the service in November 2020? Are there any experiences or outcomes unique to your team?

I think that it has been going really well! It has been exciting to join a team where we can really build the team from the ground up. We are fully recruited with seven members of staff, so now we can look at how best to utilise our resources. It is only a square mile but there is a lot to do!

Something that is unique to the City of London is that it is not an area where many people actually live. The residential population of the city is around 9,000 so it may not necessarily be somewhere that people have lived for a long time or have links to. With this in mind we work hard to support people back to their borough of local connection or set up new foundations in other areas.

We also enjoy many partnerships with external agencies supporting us in our outreach shifts. Weekly we go out with Doctors of the World, RAMHP (mental health assessments provided by the East London Foundation Trust), the Parkguard, Adult Social Care and there is also a new outreach psychotherapist provided by Providence Row. This amount of specialised support has been invaluable in helping people access healthcare quickly and safely, which can often be a barrier in helping them off the streets.

You’ve worked in various teams at Thames Reach before leading the City of London outreach team; does your approach differ at all to elsewhere in the organisation?

I started in Thames Reach working in the Social Impact Bond (SIB) team, working with people in Camden and Islington with complex needs. This gave me a good experience of how we can engage with people with complex needs, providing a personalised service. Especially helping those who may have experienced homelessness for a number of years and have become disenfranchised with services.

Now I am in the City, I am able to see the similarities in the approaches of the previous teams I have worked in and use them to our strengths in developing our outreach team. In the City one of the sections of our cohort are people who have been experiencing long-term street homelessness, who may find it difficult to engage with mainstream services, similar to those in the SIB cohort. We also work with those who may be new to rough sleeping or ‘transient’ through the City, and this element reminds me of some of the prevention work I was involved with in my role in the Greenwich Navigators team, working closely with external agencies to maintain engagement with services in order to access or sustain accommodation.

It is great to be at the start of the City Outreach contract and to think of how we can use not only my experiences of working in other teams, but also drawing on the strengths of the team as a whole and their experience of working in the sector. Everyone has their own background to bring to the team and it has created a very diverse group with a shared determination for the new project, which is very exciting!

Which other teams in Thames Reach are you working closely with to help people leave the streets?

It has been really helpful for the team and especially new members of staff to be around other Thames Reach outreach teams in our new office to discuss ideas and approaches. With the transient nature of people in City who may have come from other boroughs, it’s really helpful to be based in a hub of other outreach services. Even though we may be supporting someone who has crossed over to another borough, team members from those boroughs may be sitting next to one another – which can make communication much easier!

With the current need to support those who are housed in emergency accommodation, we have been doing a lot of work helping people gain employment if they are not eligible for benefits in the UK. Luckily, the Employment Academy have been supporting us greatly with these cases and we are now seeing more people we work with access employment, now that lockdown is easing, and businesses are recruiting.

As a new service to Thames Reach we are establishing links and pathways for clients to make the most of the other teams in the organisation. We are looking to actively refer people to the Private Sector Lettings team so those who are ready can access housing in the privately rented sector. With general tenancy sustainment support needed as well to make sure that the housing solutions we create are long-term, we will be also referring to the TST PRS [Private Rental Sector] teams at Thames Reach to make sure that people we work with remain supported through moving on, which is a big change to adapt to.

How do you see the service developing, and what are you looking forward to?

Despite the workload that goes in to setting up a new service, I enjoy the early stages of a project! The process of getting a team together, setting goals, and thinking about what works well and what may need some change is a welcomed challenge. Now we have the team recruited and targets set, it is now time to keep focused and moving forward.

I’m looking forward to the next few months and supporting everyone who has come in under ‘Everyone In’ and SWEP (Severe Weather Emergency Protocol) over winter and helping support them into longer-term accommodation with appropriate support. I am also looking forward to the challenge of working to reduce the amount of long-term rough sleepers in City as a whole. We have had some really positive outcomes this year so far in this area. I definitely recognise and appreciate all of the hard work from various teams and professionals that came before us. This has led up to the point of people with complex needs finally accessing accommodation. I am hoping to continue with this progress and see more of the positive changes in the City cohort as a whole.

In terms of development, it seems like the City team keeps growing! We will be providing in-reach support with two dedicated support workers who will be based at the hotels where our emergency accommodation is. With more members of staff, we have more dedicated time with each individual, and therefore provide intensive support that may not always be possible for outreach services.

In our monthly street counts we have been seeing reductions in the number of people sleeping rough, so I am hoping that we will be ready to face the challenge. I am positive that we seem to be going in the right direction overall.

Deptford Reach re-opens with new schedule and services

Deptford Reach re-opens this week with an adapted schedule, with activities and takeaway food once again available to those experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

Deptford Reach re-opens with new schedule and services

Since the beginning of the pandemic, many of Thames Reach’s services have had to change the way they work to ensure the safety of communities, the people we work with and staff alike. For Deptford Reach, based in the heart of the community in south London, this meant a reduced face-to-face services while ensuring no one was left behind in these difficult times. Its day centre functionality was postponed, as the conventional use of the space with many people sharing a confined space was not suitable in pandemic times. Staff worked with those most at need, but as of this week (W/C Monday 12 April) the building is opening up again, with selected services running, including:

A rough sleeping support hub, which will take place in the mornings, providing advice, breakfast, showers, clothing and laundry facilities to anyone experiencing street homelessness. This will run Monday to Friday.

Prevention and sustainment service will run alongside this, on an appointment basis.  This will provide support to anyone at risk of homelessness, and people needing support sustaining their accommodation.

From 17th May onwards, activities will take place on site in two-hour slots during the day. These will take the same format as the day centre as it existed prior to lockdown, with sessions including digital skills, women’s services and art.

Alongside this our kitchen will open again with takeaway food available in line with government guidelines, meaning that food will have to be taken outside of the building, at least for the time being.

A dentist, GP and nurse will be on site on set days of the week. At Thames Reach our aim is to ensure that everyone we work with is registered with their own GP, and can access the health services they need.  However these services are not always as accessible as they should be to people who are homeless and in housing need, and by using Deptford Reach as a point of access, this can make a real difference for some of the people who use our service.

Another new element of the Deptford Reach team’s work will be “outreach” sessions. This differs from the ‘traditional’ street outreach work with people sleeping rough, but allows the team to seek out people in housing need and intervene to prevent homelessness.  It will involve support workers being present at food banks across the borough of Lewisham to provide the same prevention and sustainment service outlined above.

Deptford Reach are looking for volunteers to help deliver their new services, particularly support for the rough sleeping hub and volunteers with specialised skills, to run activities for the Deptford Reach community, such as art, meditation, yoga. To discuss this further, email volunteers@thamesreach.org.uk or visit our Volunteer page to apply. 

 

 

Just Eat campaign feeds almost 2,000 people experiencing isolation and poor health

The campaign run by Just Eat which launched in December 2020 has helped Thames Reach provide tasty and nutritious meals to almost 2,000 people experiencing social isolation and poor health

Just Eat campaign feeds almost 2,000 people experiencing isolation and poor health

Prior to Christmas 2020. Just Eat, the well-known food outlet, in association with Social Bite, the organisation behind the Worlds Big Sleep Out in 2019, ran a fundraising campaign raising money to alleviate the growing problem of food poverty.

When ordering their takeaway, Just Eat customers were invited to donate a small sum on top of their order total to raise money to buy 200,000 Christmas meals for people in need across the UK. Thames Reach was one of fifteen charities selected to distribute the funds raised.

The campaign and the money raised exceeded expectations, and the charities quickly hit their target for the number of meals provided. With the help of some fantastic volunteers, Thames Reach staff across the organisation distributed 500 meals to people living alone and in food poverty over the Christmas period. This was particularly important this year, with the cancellation of  festive meals and services, which are so important for people who live alone and in poverty.

But this is not the end of the story. Because the fundraising campaign was so successful, we have continued to provide meals and groceries to vulnerable and isolated people through January, February and March. In fact, we have distributed an additional 1300 meals to people in need. This couldn’t have been more timely, with the pandemic seriously affecting those who needed to self-isolate, but who didn’t have the kind of family support so many of us can rely on.

We want to say a big thank you to Just Eat and its customers, Social Bite and our partners, particularly The Good Eating Company, which provided really high-quality ready meals, and a huge thank you to our fantastic volunteers. They distributed the meals and offered a little Christmas cheer and a warm smile to everyone they met.

Area manager Sandra on Thames Reach’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group

Thames Reach’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group is an integral part of Thames Reach’s ongoing commitment to these values. Its convenor and area manager Sandra Barrett discusses her career progression and details how the group functions.

Area manager Sandra on Thames Reach’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group

Can you tell us a bit about your role and time at Thames Reach?

I joined Thames Reach as project worker, over 25 years ago, at the service now known as the Bermondsey Project. From there I worked in a range of roles across the organisation, including project leader before becoming an area manager in 2011. Since that time I have overseen a wide range of services, and currently I am responsible for Supported Housing. I am also the convenor for the organisation’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) group.

How does the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group work?

The group meets quarterly, and now via Zoom. The forum is a place to share good practice and some of the challenges faced by our service users and staff in these areas. It can also highlight issues that are taken up and addressed at a higher level.  An example of operational change implemented was the use of Language Line. This came about as a result of feedback to the forum that the database of languages spoken by Thames Reach staff wasn’t as effective as it could be. Now with the introduction of Language Line, translation is available to all staff when needed. Feedback to the group has also informed our campaigning, such as highlighting the problems faced by EU nationals which brought about greater access to services for this cohort. I would like EDI to be viewed in much the same way as Health and Safety, in that everyone has a responsibility to be mindful and act where there are breaches.

Thames Reach have been vocal in the campaign for key workers and people experiencing homeless to have access to the COVID vaccine. What are your thoughts?

The local authorities we work with have made the COVID vaccine available to Thames Reach’s front line workers. Initially, like many others, I wanted to wait to take the vaccine to see how other people fare with it. However, with more information, over time my attitude has changed and I am pleased to say I had my first vaccine on Sunday. Whilst it does not give me 100% protection it gives me some comfort that in a few weeks’ time I will have some level of protection against COVID.

International Women’s Day: Poema, outreach lead manager

Poema Ivanova talks to us about her career progression and vocation to work in outreach support, as we mark her retirement after eight years with Thames Reach.

International Women’s Day: Poema, outreach lead manager

As part of our International Women’s Day celebrations, we spoke with Poema Ivanova, lead worker at Thames Reach’s Enfield SORT (Street Outreach Team). This week marks her last at Thames Reach after eight years of service as she enters retirement. She was selected by chief executive Bill Tidnam to discuss her work, plans for the future and International Women’s Day!

Can you tell us a bit about your service, and exactly what your role is?

I have been working at Thames Reach since August 2012 in various roles, starting as a reconnection worker before moving to the wonderful team at Tower Hamlets Street Outreach Team (SORT). After 4 years there, I went on to lead Newham SORT, which then was just a team of one. A year later I laid the foundation of the well-known SAFE Connections, the greatest team, with the greatest manager! At the end of that project, I had to take another challenge, to join Enfield SORT, to help build up the new Outreach service in LB Enfield. I am proud to say that we managed to keep the rough sleeping population in the borough under good control during the pandemic; responding to referrals, picking up people from the street as soon as we hear about them. Enfield council were able to provide the necessary resources for that, and this is a huge achievement.

What personality qualities and skills does it take to be a good outreach worker?

Good outreach work is a mission, it is not just work. One needs to be dedicated to this work, dedicated to the people in need. In normal life those people are not met every day, but we are facing these cases every day, sometimes a few a day. We need to have very large hearts, to be able to contain all this struggling people’s fates and stories, but still remaining very strong and resilient, to be able to encourage people to stand back on their feet and start sometimes probably the most difficult in their life journey towards the light, towards the sun. We need to have the hope and belief in what we are doing and be able to pass it to people in desperation. The sympathy, respect, empathy – these are the personal values, which the outreach worker must have in their day-to-day work.

What have you enjoyed about working at Thames Reach?

I would say that there was no day like the last. Every new day meant new people, new stories, new lives, new challenges. There was no time to be bored. That is how the last 8 years of my life have passed by so quickly.

I will not forget my colleagues at Thames Reach – the real treasure of the company. Working in different teams has had a very positive effect on my entire life and working experience. I had the greatest chance to watch my colleagues, my line managers growing in their roles, up to the very top.

I am very grateful to my colleagues, and now friends, for an unforgettable time together!

What are your plans for retiring?

Oh, difficult question. After dreaming about this moment for the last few years, now it has actually arrived one side of me is very happy, that I won’t have to get up for the early shift, the other half of me is crying; but I also hear a whisper: what is next? I hope my health will be good enough to allow me to enjoy the life for the coming years. I have a nice hobby to entertain me, which I hope to have more time for, and more time for my favourite flowers! And of course for my family.

I would also like to use this opportunity to celebrate all women in Thames Reach with the wonderful day of 8 March, International Women’s Day! I think in Thames Reach we have some incredible women from all different parts of the world, and are one of our most valuable assets. With their never-ending optimism and hope for a better world, with their understanding and caring nature, with their readiness to fight for every single person in need, with their generous willingness to help and support others. HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY!

 

Thames Reach’s response to latest rough sleeping count

Bill Tidnam, Thames Reach chief executive, responds to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Governments (MHCLG) street count figures, stating that while the decrease in numbers of people rough sleeping is hopeful, we must not lose sight of the importance of prevention services

Thames Reach’s response to latest rough sleeping count

“The national snapshot rough sleeping street count figures collected by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) at the end of November 2020 show a significant reduction in rough sleeping compared to the same period in 2019.  These figures need to be treated with some caution: they are a snapshot of one night, and some areas undertake an estimate rather than counting.  That being said, the more accurate CHAIN database from the Greater London Authority (GLA) records people seen sleeping rough by outreach workers in London, also shows a reduction in Quarter 3 (October to December) against the same period in 2019.

“This follows an large increase in rough sleeping in April and May during the first lockdown, when many people who were precariously housed lost accommodation and came onto the streets for the first time.  Many of these people were helped by the ‘Everyone In’ response, which provided temporary accommodation, with many of these people now moved into long-term housing.

“People sleeping rough are not a static population.  Of the 3307 people seen sleeping rough in London between October and December 2020, 1582 were new to the street, and 1166 spent only one night on the street.  Rough sleeping is damaging and dangerous.  Investment by government in services to help people who are on the streets is welcome and is having an impact.  However if we are really serious about tackling rough sleeping we need to get to people before they end up on the streets, and prevent this happening.  The majority of people sleeping rough have significant support needs around their mental health or substance misuse (or a combination of these), and their homelessness represents a breakdown of the networks that should provide support, rather than a ‘simple’ housing crisis.   Work to build and reinforce these networks before people ended up on the streets was a major, albeit unsung, part of the effective response to rough sleeping in the early part of this century, but in the last ten years, local government funding cuts have meant that much of this work no longer happens.

“Around 50% of people sleeping rough on London’s streets are non-UK nationals, and the often punitive legal response to this group, means that it is often difficult for charities like Thames Reach to give them the help they need to get and stay off the streets.  There has been progress in this area with a greater flexibility around exclusion and help to find work, but the figures remain consistently high.  Putting needs rather than nationality first is crucial if we are to begin to make a difference for all people experiencing street homelessness.”

Interview with manager James on Thames Reach’s COVID residential project

James Oladunjoye is lead manager at the Pontoon Dock Project, a temporary residential service run by Thames Reach to provide a space for people experiencing homelessness to safely isolate if they test positive for COVID19.

Interview with manager James on Thames Reach’s COVID residential project

James Oladunjoye is lead manager at the Pontoon Dock Project, a temporary residential service run by Thames Reach to provide a space for people experiencing homelessness to safely isolate if they test positive for COVID19. We spoke with him to learn more about this essential and unique project, helping people stay safe during a public health crisis.

Can you tell us a bit about your project?

The need for the hotel arose out of the pandemic; we had a very similar service running last year but this iteration opened in January, commissioned by the Greater London Authority. Sleeping on the streets, or using shared facilities, is not safe if someone needs to isolate. The Pontoon Dock Project is made up of self-contained rooms with ensuite facilities, with staff available to support with anything, including food, drink, toiletries etc. We make sure people are provided with what they needin order to isolate in a safe and comfortable way.

How do you receive referrals for the project, and what is your capacity?

We work closely with University College London Hospitals (UCLH) Find and Treat team, who are a unit within the NHS who test people who are experiencing homelessness for COVID-19. They refer those with a positive result who cannot safely isolate where they are to us, but we also get referrals from other hostels and homelessness services in London. Approximately 70% of our residents are from hostels, including those run by Thames Reach, and then around 30% are people sleeping rough or being discharged from hospital or released from prison. We are a 20-bed unit and staff team of 8, and numbers of residents fluctuate as people will only stay between one and ten nights while they isolate.

What is the clinical support like on site?

This is also provided by the Find and Treat team; clinicians and doctors are on-site regularly, whether this is to see particular residents or for generalised check-ups and advice. The Thames Reach team also provide check-ups based on doctors’ advice for each resident, such as oxygen checks. Sometimes isolating can be incredibly lonely too, so we arrange socially distant sessions to check in on residents, sometimes they just want someone to talk to. Aside from this, we also ensure that all prescriptions are collected daily and distributed to residents so their recoveries are not interrupted.

What kind of support is offered for residents after they leave?

Although it is always a short stay, no one leaves Pontoon Docks without a plan in place; for example no one has ever been left to go back on the streets once their isolation period with us has ended. As some people come from hostels, their support will continue at their place of residence, but housing will be discussed with them during their stay, and options have included homeless emergency housing with a local authority, a  hostel or the private rented sector.

Is there anything you’ve learned while working on this project that you will take forward to other Thames Reach services?

One thing that became clear right from the early days is trusting in Thames Reach policies. Initially we had people not wanting to isolate, and we had to ensure we were accommodating everyone as well as we could, including those with alcohol or substance dependencies. We have worked closely with drug and alcohol agencies to ensure those clients are supported in the safest way possible.

We had to get started up very quickly, but staff all the way up to and including management have been really helpful, really involved, always asking how they can help. It really shows how everyone cares about homelessness, rough sleeping and the challenges that come with it. Although the project is unique with its own challenges, everyone has chipped in. It’s a testament that Thames Reach as an organisation really care about what we’re doing.

Vaccination priority list to cater to “mitigating health inequalities”

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunology (JCVI) has recommended flexibility with the priority list for the COVID vaccine, stating that people experiencing health inequalities should be prioritised.

Vaccination priority list to cater to “mitigating health inequalities”

Following the amendment of guidance that ensured staff working with homeless people were treated as “frontline health and social care” staff, the public health body deciding on vaccination priorities, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunology (JCVI), has recommended flexibility from authorities, meaning that the vaccine allocation should give attention to mitigating health inequalities.  The committee has identified people who are experiencing homelessness as a group who are affected by these inequalities, something that has been a priority message for Thames Reach for some time. This has already meant that some hostel residents have been offered vaccination.

Thames Reach welcome  JCVI’s recognition that the people who use our services can be particularly vulnerable, as this opens the route to earlier vaccination for people who are particularly at risk because they live in hostels or other shared accommodation, as well as those who already meet the criteria due to their age or clinical vulnerability. In the meantime Thames Reach are maintaining the protocol of ensuring that as many people as possible are registered with their GP, in order to make sure they are offered the vaccine at the appropriate time for optimum safety for all.

Interview with Tanja, Thames Reach’s job broker helping people get back into work

Tanja Mrnjaus is Thames Reach’s job broker, based in the Employment and Skills team. We chat to her about the challenges of the job market, how she is supporting people to get back into work and her predictions for a post-lockdown London

Interview with Tanja, Thames Reach’s job broker helping people get back into work

Can you tell us a bit about your role, and your career before coming to Thames Reach?

My role as a job broker is to support clients through search, application and placement into employment. I am also building new and managing existing relationships with employers and training providers. Previous to working here I was a brand and general manager for an international fashion brand and a lecturer for Marketing and Communications in Business of Fashion. I started my career as a personal stylist and have worked with shopping giants such as Westfield and John Lewis developing and recruiting styling talent and delivering retail training programmes.

What are the biggest challenges in your role at the moment?

The biggest challenges in my role at the moment are very much influenced by the global pandemic and the effects on the economic market. Many businesses have shut their doors and certain industries have struggled to keep afloat. As a result there is an increase of people who are looking for work in an environment where there are not as many roles offered. However there is always an opportunity and I am very much motivated to ensure that people I work with are placed in sustainable employment.

What are the biggest challenges faced by those supported by the Employment and Skills (E&S) team, and how are you able to help?

The challenges faced by E&S clients are very complex and varied.  Main barriers include communication skills, lack of training, lack of experience, confidence, technology access and funds. By working with clients personally, I can tailor a plan to meet their needs in terms of receiving additional support in areas they are lacking and taking steps towards their employment goals. I support clients by coaching them through their job search and helping them navigate through resources that are available to them so they reach their full potential.

Do you have any predictions for the employment market once London comes out of a full lockdown? What advice are you giving to clients based on this?

I am very hopeful for the rise in the employment market once London comes out of full lockdown. My predictions in terms of job vacancies would be that the hospitality and hotel industries will making a big comeback, the beauty industry will boom, IT and digital technology will continue to dominate, and digital skills will be much in demand; warehouse, delivery service and construction will continue to thrive. I am also seeing a rise in local social enterprise businesses; giving back to the community will be more important than ever. Due to the mental health effects of the pandemic, mindfulness and wellbeing services will become more sought after than ever.

What are you hopeful about this year?

There will definitely be exciting opportunities this year to start fresh and with a new perspective. There are many grants to support and help rebuild the economy and the best thing we can all do is to continue to be positive and work together to make a difference to those that need it the most. This year is all about cross-referring, cross partnerships and establishing strong networks to provide an improved service and create opportunities from within.