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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Outreach teams to be axed

May 18 2009
Walking away from the past: City Guardians will take on outreach tasks Walking away from the past: City Guardians will take on outreach tasks
Outreach workers in Westminster are facing the axe as the council‘s latest homelessness strategy - a move to building-based services - gets set for roll out. From July, the new initiative will see a reduction in measures that may help sustain lives on the street - including soup runs and outreach teams - in favour of building-based provision. It is estimated that half of all outreach workers will disappear under the new scheme. Their work will be replaced in part by City Guardians, police officers and other council workers, who will add 'signposting' of homeless provision to their list of tasks. Councillor Angela Harvey explains: "If a City Guardian sees someone about to bed down for the night they will signpost them towards services. We want to get people into services and programmes because life on the street is no good for anyone." Those sleeping rough within central London have become accustomed to the tough love tactics of Westminster Council, but this latest initiative is a shift too far for some charities. "It's not a move towards building-based services, but an end to outreach," said a senior outreach worker in Westminster. "Essentially we are concerned," says Tariq Hilal, policy manager at Crisis. "We believe the best way to deal with vulnerable homeless people is through outreach teams. You need someone with experience whose sole expertise is helping homeless people." Outreach has proved one of the most successful methods of bringing down the numbers of rough sleepers. Around 30 CAT workers and RIT teams currently monitor the streets of Westminster. A "signposting" pilot began in March in conjunction with The Connection at St Martin's and The Passage within the Victoria station and City central area. So far the numbers coming into participating day centres have been "negligible", and charity workers predict that the scheme will be unsuccessful. "With City Guardians, homelessness is only one part of their jobs and we think this move will lead to further discrimination of homeless people who won't get the assistance they need," Hilal says. Another source questioned the skills of a City Guardian to deal with the often complex problems of rough sleepers. "Who would want to be [a City Guardian]? It's an option for people who can't make it as a traffic warden," he says. Harvey says City Guardians will not resort to coercion if rough sleepers do not want to be directed to services. But the continued dispersal of soup runs, which Harvey describes as "a solution of 20 years ago when people on the street had nothing," and other well-meaning "street-based" initiatives on the part of local charities, may mean that vulnerable rough sleepers are cut off from the most basic provisions.