Ending rough sleeping in London

What Thames Reach is doing to help end rough sleeping

Ending rough sleeping in London

Last year, 11,018 people slept rough on the streets of London. Shockingly, the numbers are on the rise with a staggering 250% increase in rough sleeping in the past decade.  

Sleeping rough is a demeaning, damaging and often dangerous experience. In fact, it’s so harmful that a person who sleeps rough has an average age at death of just 44 years. 

The challenges of outreach

Most people would assume that if you were homeless and had a chance to leave behind life on the streets, you would jump at it. But homelessness is a complex issue. Many people find it hard to trust others as they’ve been let down by family, friends or institutions. Many have endured physical or mental abuse, making it even harder to accept help. Our outreach teams understand these challenges, and the importance of building trusting relationships before an individual feels able to accept support.  

What Thames Reach is doing to help end rough sleeping

Our outreach teams are on the frontlines, working tirelessly across London 365 days a year. We comb the city, searching for people as they are bedding down on the streets at night and waking up early in the morning. It is our aim to bring people inside, to a place of safety. 

Last year we helped 1,240 people get off the streets of London and helped begin this journey for many more. 

How you can help

The more hours we are out on the streets, the more people we see, the more lives we save. Please donate whatever you can and help us end rough sleeping in London.

Donate now

What do outreach workers do?

Our outreach workers help people who are homeless to get off the streets

What do outreach workers do?

Our outreach workers help people who are homeless to get off the streets. They are out every night of the year, helping people find accommodation, access healthcare, and other services they might need, such as benefit advice. 

Getting a roof over someone’s head is just the first step

Homelessness is a systemic and political failure. We find people who have fallen out of a broken system and we’re trying to put them back in. 

Once a person becomes homeless, they can become trapped and it’s difficult to escape as they need support to help navigate the system. 

At Thames Reach, we focus on the person as an individual – not just a sleeping bag in a doorway. Getting a roof over someone’s head is just the first step; our job is to help people feel human again and get them back into the system. In order to do that, we have to build trust with an individual and that can take time. 

Our support is tailored to the individual. For one person that might mean helping them fill in forms, for another it might mean going with them to an appointment. 

Giving hope and a roadmap to a way out

As well as practical advice and support, we give hope to the people we support. Many people who have been homeless feel hopeless. Our job is to give them a credible roadmap to feeling hopeful again. Something as simple as taking someone to have a haircut can help make them feel human again, and hopeful that their situation can improve.  

We never give up

Once we have made contact with an individual, we stay in touch with them until they are no longer rough sleeping. We often get told about people sleeping rough in certain locations, as if no one knows about them or is doing anything, but we do know nearly all of these people and are doing something about it. Not everyone feels ready to stop rough sleeping. It takes time for them to build trust with us, especially if they’ve been failed by systems or institutions in the past. 

Volunteer for us

Our volunteers work alongside our outreach workers to help find and engage people sleeping rough. If you are interested in volunteering for us and can commit to at least one night a month, then get in touch for more information.

Find out more about volunteering


Board Member – Thames Reach Charity

If you are interested in becoming a Thames Reach board member, contact us at boardmembership@thamesreach.org.uk to find out more.

If you are interested in becoming a Thames Reach board member, contact us at boardmembership@thamesreach.org.uk to find out more.

Thames Reach is a leading London-based charity with a particular focus on rough sleeping, and helping people who are, have been, or are at risk of rough sleeping to find decent homes, build supportive relationships and lead fulfilling lives. The charity provides innovative services aimed at preventing rough sleeping, intervening where people are sleeping rough, and helping people to recover from the impact of life on the streets. As well as street outreach work, our services include tenancy support, emergency shelters, day services, hostels and accommodation, and help with health and employment. We work across London and in Surrey.

Thames Reach is a strong organisation that is growing in response to need. Our services are rooted in our understanding of the issues surrounding street homelessness, and we use this understanding to influence decision making at a local, regional, and national level. We have an excellent reputation for effective service delivery, working with people who may have very high levels of need, and using our experience of delivering services to develop and improve our approach. The majority of our services are delivered to local and regional authorities on a contract basis and we understand that our continued effectiveness requires us to sustain and develop our financial viability; and to retain and grow our excellent employees and volunteers.

We have just over 400 employees and around 200 volunteers, and our organisational turnover is around £25 million per annum.

We have an effective and long-standing non-executive Board with a wealth of relevant experience in both the public and commercial sectors. They provide valuable support to the Executive team, as well as attending around five Board meetings every year, sitting on one of the three Board sub-committees (Finance, Audit and Fundraising; Services; Governance and People) that meet around four times a year. Board members are also asked to participate in an annual away day, usually in the autumn, with separate preparatory visits to our services.

We are now looking for up to two new members. As well as an interest in and commitment to ending street homelessness as a Board member and the ability and interest in providing strategic oversight for the organisation, we are hoping to recruit members with specific skills in the following areas:

Legal knowledge

We are looking for candidates with up to date knowledge of the law and its application in our context.  As well as the delivery of our services, this could include knowledge of property or employment law, or charity and contract law as it applies to our commitments.

Governance/Company Secretary knowledge

We are also looking for board members with an interest in and knowledge of charity governance, to support the board to understand and comply with our regulatory commitments.

Thames Reach is committed to achieving a diversity that reflects the communities we serve. We value, respect, and celebrate diversity. We welcome and encourage applicants from all sections of the community regardless of their history of homelessness, sex, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, or religious belief. We particularly welcome applicants who may have experience of homelessness and/or of using services that support people with complex support needs.

If you are interested in becoming a Thames Reach Board member and think that you might have the skills that we need, contact us at boardmembership@thamesreach.org.uk to find out more.

Closing date: Sunday 15 October 2023

London Homelessness Award sees Deptford Reach helping more people in the community

After their win at the London Homelessness Awards in 2022, Deptford Reach have been able to expand their offering to support people in the community

London Homelessness Award sees Deptford Reach helping more people in the community

Back in 2022, Deptford Reach won a £10,000 prize at the London Homelessness Awards for their homelessness prevention work in the Lewisham community. Jordan is the Lead Manager of Deptford Reach, and discusses the impact the prize has had on the people they work with, as well as being a boost for the team.

How did it feel to win at the London Homelessness Awards?

It was a great moment of validation, feeling like we are really being seen. We do this work every day, so having an award that shows everyone exactly what we have been doing, and the difference it’s making in the community, is a great feeling. It helped us take a step back and look at our work as a team and recognise how important it is. The people we work with, and people who fund our work, seeing that we’ve won an award like this is another way of letting people know that we are experts in what we do, and that we really want to help people that need the support.

How was the awards ceremony? 

Celebrating all the hard work that the different winners had been doing was a special moment; it was also a good experience to speak with different, similar organisations, develop new partnerships that can help us move people away from street homelessness. Even just meeting people from different organisations was positive, seeing new services and understanding how different people and teams work.

How has the prize money helped the work you’re doing?

We’re expanding our service into the community, to help people who might feel anxious or unsure about visiting a day centre, so the extra boost to our funding has allowed us to visit more spaces in the community, such as food banks, where people might be struggling and unaware of what we can offer.

People often come to us with issues with their living situation, so we are able to provide funds for small home repairs to ensure their accommodation is safe and secure. With the ongoing energy crisis, we’ve been able to lessen some of the stress and burden of prices increasing by providing energy vouchers to people who are particularly concerned about the cost of heating their homes.

Deptford Reach, and other projects across London, are encountering extra pressure due to increased demand and the cost of living crisis, which is affecting services as well as those using them. Click here to find out how you can support our work by donating or volunteering.



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.” 

How does the new South East London outreach team work?

Ryan, lead worker in our new South East Regional Outreach team, discusses the work being done to end street homelessness across the South East of the city

How does the new South East London outreach team work?

Thames Reach are the providers of the new South East London Regional Outreach team, which covers four boroughs within the South East of the city to help people off the streets and identify the support they need to move on from street homelessness. The team’s lead worker, Ryan, tells us about the work he does.

“The South East Regional Outreach Team (SEROT) is a new service that was put into place after London Street Rescue ended. This was the result of the decision for outreach services to be commissioned by local authorities. SEROT operates in four boroughs: Greenwich, Bromley, Lewisham, and Bexley. We get our referrals from colleagues in the Rapid Response Team (RRT), who respond to referrals made via Streetlink.

“No two days are ever the same, but an average day for me is an early start, checking for any referrals that were made overnight by the RRT and beginning welfare checks on anyone that is out rough sleeping, and working with them to resolve their homelessness. Working with people we have already made contact with, who are now in temporary accommodation, is a big part of what we do, as we discuss and plan their next steps with them. The rest of my work time is spent on casework and other admin related to the people I’m working with.

“In my borough, the people we work with are mostly white British males with substance support needs. This isn’t the case across South East London, as other boroughs work with a high number of people from other areas, with limited recourse to benefits. We fortunately have a strong working relationship with local drug and alcohol services, who will join an outreach shift when I am working with someone that would benefit from a visit.

“In South East London, I think we have all noticed a rise in the number of people rough sleeping for the first time, and I’m sure this goes for the rest of the country. The challenge is finding affordable, sustainable, decent living in London where most parts of the city are unaffordable.

“It has definitely been positive to work alongside colleagues that I worked with in London Street Rescue. This has meant that people who have been receiving support with us for a sustained period have not been affected by the changes.”

Support for homelessness recovery with Connect, Home, Aspire (CHA)

Megan is a support worker in the Connect, Home, Aspire (CHA) team, helping people recover from homelessness into suitable and stable accommodation

Support for homelessness recovery with Connect, Home, Aspire (CHA)

Content warning: non-graphic references to domestic violence

Megan is a support worker in the Connect, Home, Aspire (CHA) team, who provide a service for people with a range of support needs. The team help people get into suitable and stable accommodation, acting as a stepping stone between supported and private accommodation. Megan discusses the work she does, a significant part of which is keeping in regular contact with her clients, on the phone and in-person.

“I’ve been in the CHA team since joining Thames Reach in December 2021, when the service first started. I have a caseload of around 22 people I work with, who have been referred to us from other homelessness services in London, as well as other teams at Thames Reach. As a woman, most of the female survivors of domestic violence in the project will be in my caseload; this ensures our support is tailored to the individual’s past trauma.

“When I have been assigned a referral, I make contact by phone initially and then will often meet them in-person. It’s important to speak to people face-to-face for initial assessments, so we can cater to what they actually need, and understand their journey. We see people in a range of situations, and no two people are the same. If someone is currently rough sleeping, I will move my schedule around to prioritise them urgently.

“We work with a partner housing association, Cromwood, to house people in long-term, sustainable accommodation. We often have to advocate for people who are referred to us, and build the trust on both sides, once we are certain that the new flat being offered is the best option. Once an offer has been made, we meet with the housing officer and the new tenant at the property to sign the contract and pick up keys.

“It is at this point that our support packages really vary; although in CHA the people we work with have medium-to-high needs, this can vary between weekly to biweekly check-ins, potentially being less frequent as time goes on. In subsequent appointments we will work together to help them with a range of things including registering with a GP, setting up and accompanying them to appointments if necessary, and applying for grants and benefits.

“Promoting independence is essential in what we do, which can include establishing links to new and existing communities, and re-establishing links with family and friends.

“Connect, Home, Aspire is a pan-London service, and we get referrals from a wide range of places, so it is important that I schedule my time so I am spending as little time travelling as possible, visiting my clients who are local to each other in the same day. We play an active role in ensuring people are comfortable in their new accommodation and are integrating well into their daily life; we sometimes attend appointments at GPs, hospitals, courts and food banks with individuals so they feel represented and can build confidence in living more independently, after traumatic periods of their lives.”

Pioneering outreach: The legacy of London Street Rescue

Area Manager, Michael Murray, looks at the legacy of London Street Rescue and future provisions for street outreach in London

Pioneering outreach: The legacy of London Street Rescue

As a pioneering model of street outreach, the London Street Rescue (LSR) service will finish at the end of September, as the service has highlighted the demand for localised services to support people who are sleeping rough. Michael Murray, Area Manager, talks us through how the service worked, and discusses its legacy.

How London Street Rescue works

“London Street Rescue was commissioned by the Greater London Authority (GLA) to provide a pan-London outreach response, mainly to outer London boroughs, where there may be less resources available for people sleeping rough. Many of the areas we worked in didn’t have things like emergency accommodation, hostels, day centres and other key services, so staff had to be creative and often work independently, across multiple boroughs. Each of the five boroughs we now work in has one dedicated lead worker to ensure we can be more structured and efficient in our approach.

“We provide initial support by assessing someone for any local connection and needs, before doing everything needed to successfully end their rough sleeping, including: referring to suitable accommodation, obtaining ID documents to help them move on, supporting with welfare benefits, accessing health services and signposting for immigration support. As we are a response service to rough sleeping, we close a case once they have successfully moved off the street, and we ensure they have secured ongoing support elsewhere.”

How LSR have shaped the vision of ending rough sleeping

“Since the Rapid Response Outreach Team was commissioned, as part of a funding drive by central government to end rough sleeping by 2025, LSR have solely focussed on working with those living on the street.  Many of the boroughs we used to work in were successful in receiving bids to fund their own outreach response, many of them now delivered by Thames Rreach oureach teams. ”

The future of outreach after LSR

“LSR has had a reputation as one of the leading outreach teams in London for many years and the service has seen many changes. I think the support available for rough sleeping in London has never been better and this is why we’re in a position where London no longer requires a service like LSR.  There is still a lot of work to be done and the environment is ever-changing, which could bring new challenges.  Most boroughs now have the resources to provide their own dedicated response. The four boroughs we support in South-East London decided to make a joint bid for an outreach team and were successful.  The GLA are keen for there to be no gap in service provision after LSR formally ends, so it has been agreed that Thames Reach will deliver the new south-east outreach team, due to start on 1 October.  

Bill Tidnam, Chief Executive at Thames Reach, also reflects on its legacy:

“The key legacy of of LSR is that it delivered outreach across London to boroughs that didn’t have their own outreach teams, and by doing so identified the demand that led to boroughs commissioning their own services and understanding the responsibility for rough sleeping, and providing solutions on a local level. Supported by central government funding, this has been a key part of the improvement in the response to people sleeping rough over the last three years.”

Making volunteering a fulfilling and positive experience

Our new volunteer manager, Aparna, discusses why volunteering is so important in building a stronger community sharing the vision of ending street homelessness

Making volunteering a fulfilling and positive experience

Can you introduce yourself and your professional background? 

I started as a volunteer in 2008 when I first moved to this country. I was looking for work and applying for jobs, and had a background in publications in India. During an interview, the interviewer suggested I try some volunteering to gain experience here, so I joined an organisation that helps people obtain volunteer placements, and they soon hired me for a paid position, helping people through the process I had experienced. I learned everything from scratch. Since then, I have really enjoyed working with volunteers and helping people get the placement that is best suited for them; I have developed volunteer programmes, practices, and procedures. Understanding what makes a good volunteering experience is a big learning experience, and an exciting one. 

What do you enjoy most about working with volunteers? 

One of the main reasons I love working with volunteers is that I understand that everyone has a reason for volunteering, the same way I did when I first started out. I make sure volunteers and teams alike ask themselves what it is they want to achieve. Corporate groups volunteering with us gain experience of working in a team as well as leadership skills, and empathy and compassion towards different issues and causes. It’s real life and career experience. Young people, or someone at the start of their career, can learn things that they don’t teach in schools – for example I worked with someone who was training to be a doctor, but charitable work taught essential caring skills that aren’t in textbooks. I really enjoy seeing people grow in their roles too; sometimes people will arrive with little confidence, and then build it while volunteering.  

Aside from the life and career experience you’ve just mentioned, what do you believe to be the other benefits to volunteering? 

The personal and professional development shouldn’t be underestimated. These placements provide the opportunity to integrate into the community in a way that can be difficult otherwise, especially in London. You can really feel part of something positive and develop a good understanding of culture and people in our communities. Particularly in Thames Reach roles, there is a good opportunity to empathise with people.  

Can you tell us about the volunteering roles currently available at Thames Reach? 

The most popular and always in demand are outreach roles. Thames Reach are best known for outreach across London, and these late-night shifts always need volunteers to support staff in finding and recording people sleeping rough, before helping them off the streets. People should commit to one shift per month, but are welcome to do more if they would like.  

In our Employment and Skills team, we are looking for volunteers to assist the process of guiding people through the process of getting back into work and identifying strengths and weaknesses. For these roles we require a commitment of at least three months, ideally six months, as the people we work with need consistency, and we need people who are passionate about helping others and contributing to our vision of ending street homelessness.  

Larger groups such as corporates are always welcome; we see them regularly returning to get involved with projects such as gardening at our hostels.  

What are your plans for the volunteering programme? 

I will be making sure we are able to define the volunteer journey, making outcomes easier to identify and making a strong connection between the team and the volunteer so that everyone is gaining what they need from the placement. I will also be looking to increase the number of volunteers we have and look at pathways into employment from our volunteers especially those with lived experience.

I am working on making sure all application forms are digital and fully accessible, while also acknowledging that digital literacy is not a given, so there will be support available to make sure anyone who wants to volunteer with us is able to make that application.  

 I will also be working collaboratively with peers in the charity sector to raise the profile of the benefits of volunteering with us, with the ultimate aim of increasing our volunteer numbers and ensuring a positive and fulfilling experience for all involved. 

Interview: Volunteering with Thames Reach on placement year

We interview Beatrice, who has just finished volunteering with Croydon Reach as part of her placement year

Interview: Volunteering with Thames Reach on placement year

We spoke to Beatrice, who has been volunteering with Croydon Reach as part of her degree in social work. As her placement comes to an end, we asked her about her experience and what she has learned on her journey towards becoming a trained social worker.

Can you tell us about the work you have done on your placement?

I have been in the outreach team as an outreach support worker at Croydon Reach. It’s been a really valuable learning experience for me, as at the beginning I was learning how the team support clients, and by the beginning of this year I had my own case load. I have been supporting people with housing, helping access benefits and signposting to services. Most of the people I’ve worked with have successfully moved on, so I’m proud of the work I’ve done.

Can you tell us a bit about your working background prior to coming to Thames Reach?

I am in my second year of my social work degree and didn’t have a lot of experience before coming here. I did do some volunteering in Portugal at an organisation working with refugees, people experiencing homelessness and people in supported housing. I was teaching computer skills, but there was a much smaller client group there.

What did you learn about homelessness during your time with us?

There is this public perception about homelessness that is so limiting, but it’s not the case with people you meet as a support worker. The negative stereotypes are so unhelpful and don’t account for the journeys that people are on.

When I got the placement, I didn’t think so much about homelessness in relation studying social work, but it’s made me realise that there are all sorts of people and situations involved in homelessness, and lots of different needs. In my social work experience before Thames Reach, I had worked with one group of people with one particular set of needs, but with homelessness there are so many factors to consider.

What would you say to someone thinking of volunteering with Thames Reach?

With all these different factors in people’s lives, it means there is a wide spectrum of opportunities, especially if you want to learn about particular things or use particular skills. The team have been so great to work with, I felt really supported and included. They were really open to being asked questions too, which is great when you’re first starting out.

How do you think your placement experience will help you be a better social worker?

I’ve learned so much about empowering the people we work with, and the ethics around that. It’s so important to understand what the individual wants, not just projecting what I think is best, as their support worker. I hope to be able to support people from where they are, rather than where I, or anyone else, think they should be. Understanding people and communicating with them has been such a huge learning opportunity for me; people engaging with substance teams, for example, has allowed me to see the process for myself. The journey someone is on isn’t always a straight line, and seeing people start again, if that’s what they need to do, is all part of that.

If you, or your team, are interested in volunteering with Thames Reach, please have a look at our Volunteer page and contact VolunteerManagers@thamesreach.org.uk for more information.