In 2015-16, the StreetLink referral line received in excess of 60,000 calls and web reports from people concerned about people sleeping rough. This resulted in 20,374 referrals of people sleeping rough to outreach teams across England. Matt Taylor, StreetLink’s Team Leader, explains how the service works.
StreetLink is a national referral website service that enables the public to alert local authorities in England and Wales about people sleeping rough in an area. The service is run in partnership between St Mungo’s and Homeless Link, and funded by grants from the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Greater London Authority and the Welsh Government.
Here’s how it works in more detail.
Making a referral
Each day and night, a central team of around eight people, including four volunteers, answer calls and follow up website referrals from the public. In peak times, StreetLink can receive as many as 700 alerts per day.
When a referral is received, the information is sent by email to either the appropriate local authority or the outreach team in that area to action.Many local authorities have outreach teams, these are not managed by StreetLink, but by separate organisations – these go out to look for people in the locations given at night.
Outreach workers report back with an ‘outcome’ within 10 working days. If requested, Streetlink will send an update to the person who made the referral.
The service relies on volunteers to help run it. They come from all kinds of backgrounds, and some have experienced homelessness themselves. In the words of a current volunteer: “It’s great to be part of a service that you know works, and which for many is the first step in helping people off the streets”.
What StreetLink cannot do
StreetLink is not an emergency service. Although local authorities and outreach teams aim to act on referrals as soon as they can, response times vary from area to area, depending on the resources available, but 2-3 nights is probably average.
Several areas do not have dedicated independent outreach teams. Where this is the case, they send the referral to the council’s Housing Options team and ask them to follow up.
High levels of calls mean that sometimes StreetLink does not have the capacity to answer immediately. That’s why they ask you to use their website or app for referrals whenever possible.
To make sure rough sleepers can be found by the outreach teams, the StreetLink team need to know the exact location that people have been seen sleeping. For example, “I saw someone sleeping in XX Park. Enter the park via XX Road. Ten yards in is a toilet block. They are in a bush directly behind that block”.
In addition, StreetLink will always take the following into consideration:
Time – outreach teams go out at night or in the early hours of the morning. If the rough sleeper is not seen by the referrer during these times it is unlikely that the team will be able to locate them.
Activity – Unfortunately, outreach teams cannot verify someone as rough sleeping if they are begging, and not actually bedded down.
Location – from experience, exposed locations such as famous landmarks, ATM machines and busy pedestrian streets are not typically where people will actually sleep.
The end result
StreetLink works. Since December 2012, around 25,000 people have been connected to local services and over 4,000 have been found accommodation as a direct result of their referral to StreetLink.
Thank you to all who have used StreetLink or downloaded the app. Spread the word, and if you’re in London and can commit to four hours a fortnight and, please do consider volunteering for the service.