An Outreach Worker in Notts

Words: Beth Green
Illustrations: Zarina Teli
Sunday 21 January 2024
reading time: min, words

Formed in 2001, Framework is an organisation supporting vulnerable people, with housing support, job hunting, mental health, and recovery services for drugs and alcohol. Their primary focus, though, is to try and get people off the streets, and into more permanent accommodation. LeftLion caught up with one of their street outreach workers, who explains the ins and outs of their day to day…

Zarina Telli #167

I start work early doors, at 5am, and there will be one other person with me. Once we head out, our job is to respond to referrals that have been made throughout the night. The referrals can come in a variety of ways, either self-referral, which is where someone who is rough sleeping will ring up the helpline themselves, tell us where they are and that they would like some help. Members of the public also sometimes call in, otherwise it could come from services such as the police or hospitals. 

My job is to walk around the city and see the people that have been referred to us. We will do a welfare check of everyone on our caseload, which we will then check back on every two to three days. At the minute we’re really stretched; if the weather goes below zero, SWEP (the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol) gets activated by the council. They will put on extra services where we can refer people for an evening. It’s usually thirty camp beds, so it gets pretty hectic as we have way more people than beds. People will be non-stop ringing in, wanting a bed, often being placed on a waiting list in case someone doesn’t turn up. Alongside that, there’s an immediacy to check on everyone, especially those that are more vulnerable to the colder weather, to make sure they’re safe. 

If it’s the first contact with a person, we then arrange to conduct an assessment. This can be done either over the phone or a face-to-face meeting with them somewhere appropriate. The point of it is so we can find out as much information as possible about them; that way, I know that I can refer them to the right services and accommodation which will best suit their needs. By 9am I’ll come back to the office and have a morning debrief with the team. From here, tasks will be delegated, and the reports will be created, containing everything we’ve seen that day. They will then get sent to the commissioners and our partner agencies. Once 12:30 comes around, it’s time to go home before doing it all again the next day.  

Nottingham Framework has four hostels that it can directly refer people into, or we can assist them to contact the council, who will do their own assessment. It’s great that we have the hostels, and even better that generally we don’t have an issue getting people into them. I find that one of our biggest challenges is that once someone is them, moving them on can be very difficult. Unfortunately, there’s a huge backlog with affordable housing, which means the waiting list is long, so people can’t leave. In the short term the hostel is obviously the better option than them being on the streets; long term though, it’s tough. Private renting isn’t an option for most either, it’s extortionate. It’s a lot higher than the Housing Benefit cap, which a lot of my caseload rely on to pay their rent, it’s just not attainable for most. 

It’s no surprise that it affects me and the team emotionally; all of us work in this role because we want to help people. We want to work with vulnerable adults, or people less fortunate and get them on the right path to recovery. The ones that really hit me hard are when there’s a wall, stopping us from helping them. It could be that they aren’t able to access certain services for a variety of reasons, perhaps due to Nottingham not being their ‘local connection.’ In simple terms, a person needs to pass five tests for the council to help house you, the local connection being one of these. The criteria states they need to have been in Nottingham either six of the last twelve months, or three of the last five years. Quite often I see situations where someone has moved on a short-term basis, to be with a partner, who they then split up from and are left in the city unable to qualify. The housing legislation is complex, and it puts a barrier between us and a lot of people. Ultimately, it’s just really sad knowing that we can’t help everyone that needs it.  

If you see someone that is rough sleeping, simply talk to them and ask them how they are. So many have said to me that they feel constantly ignored or even considered less than

Another way we may struggle to help, is when someone has severe mental health problems. There’s a shortage of specific mental health accommodation. When you have this, paired with the fact that their current state of mind may be in such a bad place they are refusing the help they need, it’s very difficult for me to help. In the last thirteen years, the waiting lists for people with support needs has rocketed because the provisions aren’t there, due to austerity cuts. Mental health services have struggled to catch up, leaving them with an accumulation of people they can’t seem to work through. It means that those with complex needs could worsen and their severity increases when they don’t receive the support they need. 

Do I think rough sleeping causes mental health problems? I think it’s a real chicken and the egg scenario. It’s hard to know what came first a lot of the time. Are they struggling because they’re rough sleeping? Or are they rough sleeping because of the complexity of their mental health? I have people that are rough sleeping purely due to their mental health immobilising them to maintain a tenancy. However, is a person likely to struggle more mentally when they’re rough sleeping? The answer is probably yes. 

It’s the same with those on our caseload that struggle with drug and alcohol dependency – what came first? I find a lot of people turn to misuse as a coping mechanism, whether they had issues before or not. A recurring theme I see is that a lot of rough sleepers have experienced childhood trauma; drugs and alcohol are a way of self-medicating. We work very closely with the drug and alcohol team within Framework. We can put out a joint team to go on the outreaches, when we are targeting those we believe could benefit from both services. After that, they will join us in the assessment with the individual, working collaboratively. This is not only because we want to help them for their own wellbeing, but also because some accommodation won’t accept them until they are on track to sort their substance misuse out.  

It can be hard at times to get people to be receptive to our help. Whether that’s due to their mental health or a mistrust of services due to previous experiences. They may have been involved from a young age, repeatedly let down by parents, teachers or social workers, all of which are supposed to help them. Some people take longer than others, so we focus solely on building up a rapport, until the walls start to fall down. On the whole though, people are really friendly, surprisingly even at 5am! 

Of course, this job has its tolling aspects, however it is simultaneously incredibly rewarding at times. When I know I’ve been able to help someone directly and see their positive feedback from people that have been housed, there’s no better feeling. Sometimes a long time can pass by and then we have someone call in, sharing how much we’ve managed to help them and get them on the right track. Equally, when you make the call, letting someone know that they’ve been accepted for accommodation and that they can pick their keys up - their reaction is priceless. That’s why I do this job, first and foremost I want to help, it’s a real good feeling. My piece of advice to you, if you see someone that is rough sleeping, is to simply talk to them, ask them how they are. So many have said to me that they feel constantly ignored or even considered less than. It costs nothing to be kind.  

The last thing I’ll mention is Beat the Streets on 28 January: a one-day festival featuring Nottingham’s best musical talent. The day raises awareness on homelessness in the city, working directly with Framework to raise funds that will enable us to greater support rough sleepers. On top of that, it’s a great day to see some emerging artists fight the January blues, have fun and give to a great cause.  

If you see someone who is homeless, please contact the Framework Street Outreach 24-hour hotline on 0800 066 5356 to ensure they are offered the necessary support

You can buy a ticket for Beat the Streets at

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