Bassetlaw's 'rough sleepers are human beings' and need compassion, community workers say

Community workers are urging people to be compassionate and see Bassetlaw’s rough sleepers as human beings.

By Ben McVay
Tuesday, 3rd March 2020, 12:17 pm
Updated Wednesday, 4th March 2020, 4:05 pm

Members of the council’s Stepping Stones team engage with the homeless in Worksop and Retford to help them back into accommodation, reduce substance abuse and the antisocial behaviour connected with it.

There are currently eight homeless people in Worksop - though the number regularly changes and there are many more suffering associated problems in the district.

Stepping Stones has been running for two-and-a-half years and has so far helped over 90 people.

Stepping Stones workers Gerald Connor, left, and Dave Price

The team work alongside mental health specialists, drug rehabilitation, supported housing providers and healthcare professionals to address clients’ needs.

Though there have been success stories - with some going on to secure long-term accommodation and work - others have issues related to mental health childhood trauma which require patience and perseverance.

Dave Price, an outreach and substance misuse worker with substance misuse organisation Grange Grow Live, describes the team’s approach as ‘person-centred’.

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He said: “A lot of the interventions we’ve developed over the last two years have been trial and error.

“There are a lot of individuals who have taken opportunities and ended up in supported housing and have had substance misuse treatment and are working through their issues.

“They’re in appropriate accommodation where drug use has stabilised - they’re addressing their mental health and there are quite a large number of people who have got to that stage in the recovery journey.”

However Dave’s colleague, Bassetlaw’s safeguarding manager Gerald Connor, says the project sets out to understand their clients’ problems rather than ‘steamroll’ in with solutions.

Gerald Connor and Dave Price say rough sleepers should be treated as human beings

He said: “Right from the outset we decided to make it a conversation and build up a bit of trust.

“Some have got jobs, some have reconnected with family members that they haven’t spoken to for years - and you can see them grow with that.

“Success is on an individual basis and what helps them grow and develop is what matters.

“It doesn’t matter how many times we’re unsuccessful - we’ll never shut the door on them.”

Gerald admits Stepping Stones workers have had to have some ‘very frank’ conversations with those they’re helping but withdrawing help is not an option.

Though some experiencing problems addictions do end up being recalled to prison for failing to engage with rehabilitation workers Gerald says there is a misconception that their often very visible clients are involved in crime.

He said: “We’ve spoken to shopkeepers who say they just want them out of the town but one of the questions we ask is ‘what would you like us to do with them?’

“We still have the odd one who ends up back on the street but our success rate is pretty high when you look around the street in terms of numbers.

“People ask ‘why are they getting that amount of support with social workers, offending management and all the rest of it’ but if they’re not engaging with us then what’s the alternative?”

Stepping Stones is funded by Nottinghamshire County Council Public Health, Bassetlaw District Council and the Rough Sleeping Initiative fund.

Partners involved in the project include the council, Change Grow Live substance misuse service, police, Framework, Nottinghamshire County Council, DWP, probation and the prison service.

County council figures from April 2018 showed the project had resulted in a reduction of 58 police incidents among the 10 individuals taking part.

Councillor Jo White, deputy leader at Bassetlaw District Council, said: “Every case that Stepping Stones deals with is about a person.

“If we can engage with people and help them then we are closer to one more person off the street.

“We know that some people would prefer us to take immediate enforcement action but that should be the very last resort.

“If we want to break the cycle then we have to try and help and tackle the underlying issues - we shouldn’t just give up on people.”