This summer Ed Addison, Case Coordinator for St Mungo’s project Street Impact London, took part in an eye opening two week long cultural exchange programme, travelling to Connecticut in the USA to learn about their approach to supporting people who are sleeping rough. Ed explains more about the homelessness situation in New Haven, the challenges they face conducting outreach and what he has taken away from the experience.
I travelled to the USA as part of the Transatlantic Practice Exchange run by Homeless Link, the national membership charity for organisations working directly with people who become homeless in England. I applied because I wanted to learn more about different approaches to engaging with and supporting people who are sleeping rough.
Like much of New England, New Haven, a small city in Connecticut, has seen an unprecedented increase in rough sleeping. With long waiting lists for shelters and few other resources, my hosts, the Columbus House outreach team, have a challenge on their hands.
Personal experience helps outreach work
The outreach team explained to me that working with certain groups, like couples and people that don’t engage, can be challenging. They also told me about their own experiences of homelessness and how this helps them in their work.
Recovery support specialist Stephanie said, “I too have been homeless and lived through this experience myself and used that experience to help others.”
The team see a lot of people with mental health needs who also use alcohol or drugs, but place an emphasis on recovery.
Stephanie explained that using lived experience to help others is a crucial part of the recovery programme, saying “[you] show them you can live through this experience and get to the other side.”
Supporting others is its own reward
What struck me is that, despite the challenges, the team were so motivated and passionate about their work. Their persistent and flexible approach provides a lifeline to those experiencing homelessness.
As outreach worker Rhonda explained, “Someone helped me, so I am going to in return… It gives me a sense of satisfaction knowing that I am helping somebody to better their quality of life.”
Applying learning in London
The Street Impact London project I work for is all about supporting people who have experience of sleeping rough to sustain their lives off the street. I’ve been inspired by the multi-disciplinary approach in New Haven which brings essential services, including street psychiatry and healthcare, to people directly on the street.
I’d like to highlight the challenges people have accessing support here in the UK and continue to ensure that St Mungo’s clients are given as much choice and decision making capacity in their recovery journey as possible.
My time in New Haven has also highlighted the importance of a community based approach to working with rough sleepers. The experience is shaping the way I build relationships with people to encourage positive change in their lives.
You can listen to an interview Ed conducted with the New Haven outreach team here.
Find out more about Street Impact here.
Homeless Link’s Transatlantic Practice Exchange is supported by the Oak Foundation and delivered in partnership with the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Placements are funded for five frontline homelessness staff to spend a fortnight in the United States, exploring different practice topics and sharing this learning on their return.