Ellie and Seyi write…
This is a very belated post, but hopefully still interesting and we hope will spark some discussion. Before Christmas we put on our warm coats and boots and headed out into the night to join Operation Alabama.
Operation Alabama started in January 2014 in response to the increasing levels of street homelessness we were seeing in Stratford town centre, which was up to 50 people per night. This isn’t an issue isolated to Stratford, across the Capital street homelessness has increased due to the horrible effects of the welfare benefits cuts and lack of housing supply.
By August 2014 Operation Alabama had identified and supported 145 rough sleepers just in the Stratford area alone and has since been rolled out across the Borough. It has helped over 80 individuals from the street into various accommodation, including homeless hostels, private rented or re-engaging them back to family or tenancies they thought they had lost. It has also ensured 30 people needing access to drug and alcohol treatment could gain access to these services.
The team consisted of us, Newham’s West Quadrant Enforcement team who set up and manage Operation Alabama, the UK Border Agency, Thames Reach (a charity helping homeless and vulnerable people to find decent homes, build supportive relationships and lead fulfilling lives. They have been funded by Newham Council to support Operation Alabama) and the police.
We visited a number of sites, including a small encampment under a fly over and Stratford town centre (where there was now only one person sleeping). The team from Thames Reach were incredible, when we arrived at the site they were the first people to talk to the homeless people. They spoke a number of languages which was helpful and in a number of cases they already knew the homeless people. They had access to hostel accommodation and acted as advocates taking up their cases to try to get them longer term accommodation.
The homeless people tended to fall into two different types of people with different needs. The first were those who were well known to the team, with long-term serious mental health needs and/or addiction issues, who had been supported by them before but falling in and out of accommodation. The others seemed to be predominately young people who had recently arrived in this country from Eastern Europe looking for a better life. The Police then check everyone as on occasions individuals wanted for a range of offences have been found to be rough sleeping. The ASB Officers from the Enforcement Team also serve everyone a warning letter. The UKBA then had questions for the homeless people, asking them where they came from and how long they had been here. The law is that if they are unable to support themselves they can be issued with a warning letter and are asked to report at a later date to update on their progress. They were also offered free return to go home to the place of origin. Although this is not for everyone when talking to the young girl you could see how some people may have imagined moving to the UK to be very different to how the reality turned out and would appreciate the chance to return.
Between the visit we did and the other one that took place before Christmas they located and engaged with 19 rough sleepers across borough. Out of these there was one voluntary reconnection back to their home country the rest were assisted from the street.
We got home in the early hours of the morning. It was a truly humbling and eye-opening experience seeing the terrible situations people are facing. But very reassuring to see the council and partners helping them off the streets, out of parks and into long term accommodation.