A pioneering collaboration has seen Network Rail staff receive special training by Shelter engagement workers as part of the new Shelter Outreach project which started in December 2020.
Shelter is a charity that has defended people’s right to a safe home since 1966, and are fighting the devastating impact of the housing emergency and the effect it has on both people and society.
Shelters engagement workers support people they meet who are sleeping rough and guide them to Shelters specialised services to give them individual help and support.
The joint initiative is part of Network Rail’s five-year campaign ‘Routes out of Homelessness’.
Since the pilot began, 68 people who were sleeping rough in Birmingham New Street station and the surrounding area have been helped by the partnership.
The support includes access to services such as getting registered with a GP, accessing benefits, mental health support, substance abuse support, and being able to set up a bank account.
43 people have also been helped into an emergency or temporary accommodation with 5 being helped into permanent accommodation.
Manchester Piccadilly has also seen positive outcomes from the project and together the stations have helped 168 people across the joint initiative.
The incredible assistance given by the partnership is a first step towards securing permanent accommodation and other life-changing support.
Many of those helped by the project have been living on the streets for a long period of time. One of those people was Ryan who is 39 and had spent four months sleeping rough at Birmingham New Street station during the pandemic.
Through the pilot scheme, Ryan received support from the Shelter who were able to help with a number of issues including addiction, through their support he has been connected with a local rehabilitation provider who has helped him on to recovery-focused supported accommodation.
Ryan said: “Until I met Shelter, my life felt pointless with no end in sight. The engagement workers seemed to really understand everything that I’d been through, and when they reached out it felt like someone had thrown me a lifeline. They told me about my options, ones that I never knew were even available to me, and for the first time in years I have hope. I feel like I have a real chance to turn my life around.”
The training delivered to both Birmingham New Street and Manchester Piccadilly station staff by Shelter has given the workers confidence in how to sensitively approach people who are sleeping rough and give them options they have available to them for help and support. This also includes station staff learning about the many complex and traumatic issues which can lead to a person losing their home.
Shakeel Mohammed, shift station manager at Birmingham New Street station, said: “Day to day our focus is of course to run a safe and reliable railway for passengers, but we must recognise stations like Birmingham New Street are also a place of refuge for people with nowhere else to turn.
“Before this partnership with Shelter we often felt powerless when we didn’t know how best to help those without a safe and secure place to sleep for the night. Equipping staff with the knowledge and skills to help people find a route out of homelessness has been a huge success – as proven by the positive outcomes and success stories since the pilot started.”
Vicky Hines, Birmingham Shelter Hub Manager, said: “It’s much easier to connect with someone when you’ve been in their shoes – members of our outreach team have experienced homelessness or other forms of disadvantage themselves, and they know the difference it makes when someone reaches out and you know you somewhere to turn.
“The station has really embraced the new initiative, and it’s been great working with Network Rail to equip and empower their staff to engage with and help people experiencing homelessness. Finding a way off the streets and into a safe home can change someone’s life forever – and pilots like this show just what’s possible when we all come together.”
Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris MP, said: “These pilot schemes demonstrate how much the rail industry is committed to taking meaningful action and helping everyone who uses the rail network.
“We are all committed to ending homelessness and I know these wonderful pilot schemes will make a real difference and change lives.”
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