A unique service which encourages members of the public to report rough sleepers using their mobile phones so they can be helped by local councils is poised to expand into Wales and Scotland.
StreetLink, which was only set up two years ago and is run from a modest office in Shepherd’s Bush, west London, now passes on about 1,000 reports of homelessness to local council outreach teams across England every month. The number of referrals – which covers those who are sleeping on friends’ sofas or are at risk of homelessness, as well as those physically on the streets – is increasing steadily as the service becomes better known, rising by 23 per cent in the last three months of 2014.
StreetLink currently covers all 326 local authority districts in England, but organisers are currently in discussions with the Welsh and Scottish administrations with the hope of creating one service for the whole of Britain.
Both charities benefiting from The Independent’s Homeless Veterans appeal praised the service, which was set up in December 2012 after the then Housing minister, Grant Shapps, realised that even he had no idea what to do when he saw a homeless person on the streets of Manchester. Wendy Searle, the head of communications at ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, said: “This a really innovative way to help those, whether they are veterans or not, who find themselves sleeping rough. With such a high proportion of the public having smartphones there may be further developments that charities like ours can embrace to help accelerate the time between finding a problem and helping out.”
Dr Hugh Milroy, the chief executive of Veterans Aid, added: “The numbers of homeless ex-service personnel are very low – however, one veteran on the streets is one too many. Indeed, in a country like modern Britain it is a dreadful indictment of society that anyone is living on the streets, be they veterans or not. StreetLink is vital, but as a society we should hang our heads in shame that it is needed at all.”
In pictures: Homeless Veterans appeal
In pictures: Homeless Veterans appeal
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Glyn Barrell is among the veterans hoping to benefit from the self-build scheme in Plymouth
2/20 Rachel Holliday
Rachel Holliday is converting a police station into a hostel
3/20 Androcles Scicluna
Veteran Androcles Scicluna says performing boosted his confidence
4/20 Christopher Cole
Christopher Cole, 51, from London, spent three years in the Army but left in 1982
5/20 Maurillia Simpson
Former servicewoman Maurillia Simpson with the medals she won at last year’s Invictus Games
Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard
6/20 Martin Rutledge
Head of The Soldiers’ Charity, Martin Rutledge, says charities sometimes allow emotion to dictate their choices
7/20 Ben Griffin
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8/20 Robin Horsfall
Robin Horsfall, who fought in the Falklands and helped end the Iranian embassy siege
9/20 Mark Hayward
A bed for the night and food helped Mark Hayward out of misfortune
10/20 Ashley Rosser
Ashley Rosser, who served in the RAF, at the Veterans Aid hostel in east London
11/20 Dave Henson
Britain's Invictus Games captain Dave Henson says veterans’ charities helped rebuild his life
Chris Jackson/Getty Images
12/20 Hugh Milroy
Hugh Milroy dispels myths about war-zone veterans through his work as the CEO of Veterans Aid
13/20 Andy MacFarlane and Julie Taylor
Former soldiers Andy MacFarlane and Julie Taylor work at the Jaguar Land Rover plant in Solihull under a covenant connecting veterans with employers
14/20 Mark McKillion
Mark McKillion's experience of living on the street eventually left him feeling as though the only way to escape was to end his life. He survived his desperate jump from Westminster Bridge, and VA's help has restored his "faith in humanity"
Nigel, a navy veteran, remembers living on the beach in the run-up to Christmas, when it rained every day for a week. He slept on a bench for seven years whilst suffering from Parkinson's disease.
16/20 Keith Cooper
Before Keith Cooper had his place confirmed at Avondale House in Newcastle, he was working out whether he could afford to buy a tent to live in
17/20 Simon Weston
Simon Weston, a Falklands War veteran, said even something as simple as a cup of tea can be an important step in getting the life of a homeless veteran back on track.
18/20 Ian Palmer, professor of military psychiatry
Ian Palmer, the first professor of military psychiatry to the British Armed Forces, says that the depiction of all ex-service personnel having post-traumatic stress disorder may stop people who really need help from getting it
19/20 Douglas Cameron
Evgeny Lebedev with Douglas Cameron, who had a hernia operation while serving in Burma
Johnnie Shand Kidd
20/20 Veterans Aid
General Sir Mike Jackson, President of ABF The Soldiers' Charity, called for donations to the Homeless Veterans appeal
StreetLink, which is funded by the Government and the Greater London Authority but delivered by the charities Homeless Link and St Mungo’s Broadway, has just seven full-time staff manning its phones and website 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
When a report about a rough sleeper is received, an alert is sent to the relevant council, which can then deploy an outreach team to offer them help – sometimes within 24 hours. The person who made the report is also kept updated about the result of their actions, so they can hold their local authority to account if they are unhappy with its response.
Matt Harrison, the director of StreetLink, said its main aim was to “get people off the streets as quickly as possible”. Although he would never discourage someone from buying a rough sleeper food or a hot drink, he said such gestures are “not going to end their homelessness”.
He added: “The key thing is to get them in touch with the services that can get them off the streets. The more people we get told about, the more we’re going to be able to help.”
Members of the public who are concerned about someone on the streets can contact the service by downloading the StreetLink app, calling 0300 500 0914 or visiting streetlink.org.uk.