In the summer of 2012 nine of the most difficult to house rough sleepers known to the Camden Safer Streets Team were identified. All had been sleeping rough for at least 5 years, (one for almost 30) all had been offered everything we could offer them, including hostels, supported housing properties and their own flats. All had consistently refused our offers. All were deteriorating mentally and physically and were putting themselves in constant danger by continuing to live on the streets. We had no idea how we were going to get these people off the streets and into accommodation.
A meeting was called to discuss the “Camden 9”. Firstly we discussed each individual in turn. We then looked at the group as a whole and found some interesting similarities amongst many of them. They were all extremely socially isolated and had little contact even with other homeless people, none had significant drug or alcohol problems, neither were they known to be involved in other street activity or anti social behaviour.
We suspected at least two or three of the individuals were on the autism spectrum, six showed signs of mental illness and one appeared to have learning difficulties. One was a complete mystery to us as he appeared to have no major support needs at all, but absolutely insisted he wanted to remain on the streets.
All of these people were given a lead worker who met them regularly and worked on building a relationship with them. During some meetings the lead workers would not even discuss housing but would simply see what the client wanted on the day, be it some breakfast, a cup of tea or some new shoes, for example, anything that would help to build up trust and show we wanted to help and were listening to them.
Slowly more information came out which confirmed our suspicions about these people’s support needs and what was keeping them on the streets. We conferred with mental health and autism specialists and carried out joint shifts with other agencies, most notably the Focus Mental Health Team. Plans were put into place. We were breaking down the barriers that had been preventing us from working successfully these people. As this process developed we began to find solutions to their housing needs.
In July 2015 we reviewed the Camden 9 list. All but two of these people were now in secure stable accommodation. One had disappeared and one was still sleeping rough but had been in accommodation for a short period. We have recently re-engaged this man and are confident we will be able to find another placement for him.
We have leant a huge amount about how to work with the most entrenched rough sleepers for this experience and have learnt that if we never give up, although it takes time, we can help even the hardest to engage homeless people. This work re-enforced our view that sleeping rough is not a lifestyle choice but that people refuse help for complex, but very real, reasons. This group of people proved that with the right interventions and plenty of patience a solution can be found to everyone’s homeless problems.
We are now drawing up a new list of our most challenging current clients.