Last month (see my blog from 3rd November) we took the opportunity to share the remarkable success achieved in reducing the number of people sleeping on our streets in Glasgow. The response was hugely positive but for some people it didn’t land. Some took the opportunity to rubbish what is a huge achievement with claims of political bias, others didn’t like the narrative as it contracted their own and some again were genuinely puzzled by the low figures when they see so many people begging on the streets of Glasgow, many appear to be rough sleeping.
Getting accurate rough sleeping figures is challenging and we have a wide range of methods to find people, including a recent overnight street count that located 7 people on the streets. Our Street Team knows the vast majority of people on the streets, many have a place to sleep but it’s often a roof and shelter, not a home, not their home. In these times many people have no heating or power, prepaid meters are expensive and simply increase poverty. So for some people being on the street is an activity, there is engagement with people passing, huge levels of generosity with food, clothing, drinks and cash. It’s not a lifestyle anyone would willingly choose, but the reality for many is that they are better off on the street than in a cold dark lonely flat in some unfamiliar outlying housing estate. Begging isn’t the same as rough sleeping, but people are no less vulnerable and the Street Team reaches out to everyone out there.
The team check the streets every day, we have volunteers on bikes scouring the outskirts, our helpline allows the public and retailers to alert us to signs of rough sleeping, we have car park attendants, refuse collectors and traffic wardens sharing information, we have a network of people with lived experience who share intelligence and we do a regular street count with trusted partners between the hours of 3am and 5am.
Last week we worked with 22 people who said they had to sleep on the streets, we were able to get 8 into accommodation, four people did not want our help at this time, but we connect with them very day multiple times. Ten were people from outside the UK and have what is called No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF), in other words they are not legally entitled to any benefits including Housing Benefit or any public service response which is why the Council often does not house them. During Covid everyone was accommodated under public health protections and one of the really sad signs of returning to normal is an increasing number of very vulnerable people from Europe and other parts of the world having no choice but to sleep on the streets due the current immigration and migration laws. A number that is worryingly increasing. We do have specialist staff supporting people with NRPF, working in partnership with a wide range of partners and we support over 20 people in accommodation but we are at our very limit in what we can do.
Glasgow still has a major rough sleeping challenge. Without the ongoing commitment of all of the partners, numbers of chronic rough sleeping would escalate rapidly. We have massively improved our ability to respond when people hit that crisis point but we have not even begun to find enough ways to prevent the crisis in the first place.
This year we relaunched an alternative giving program Street Change, where people can donate to a single fund that city centre charities can access to support people away from begging and rough sleeping. Frontline staff from the Interagency Street Network meet weekly and allocate funding that can support people to be safe, be well and be connected. It’s just one of a number of initiatives that partners in Glasgow do every day to support people away from rough sleeping and begging.
We can never be 100% accurate about people on the street on a certain night, but we are very confident that the numbers in Glasgow have been in single figures, though now showing signs of rising. Our frontline staff are working extremely hard to keep find solutions and support people off the streets. Every week we prevent 30-40 people from rough sleeping.
If you would like to support our work in Glasgow you could volunteer, donate money to Street Change or even come and work with us. If you can’t do any of those things we’d ask that you simply add our freephone number (0800 027 7466), to your contacts, you might never use it, but if you do see someone you’re worried about you can call us.
Blog by Hugh Hill, Director of Services