Shropshire Council

Day in the life of an outreach worker

01 December 2023 Last updated at 03:16pm

Some people may think that an affluent county like Shropshire would not have many people who are without a home and forced to sleep rough. However, this is far from reality.

Homelessness can affect anyone, and it’s said that most people are just several pay cheques away of potentially becoming homeless.

Being homeless is not just about a lack of accommodation but is often connected to a wider set of more complex needs and situations which can have a major impact on both a person’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Our Rough Sleeper team work with people who have been in the military, worked in trades and many other occupations. Families who have been evicted from their home through no fault of their own, or are fleeing from domestic abuse. 

Cold weather

The winter months can be extremely challenging for many people, especially those who are rough sleeping. Each year the council launches its Cold Weather Provision (CWP) to support rough sleepers across the county. The service runs throughout the coldest months, usually between December and March and provides emergency overnight accommodation, through its Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) so that people don’t have to sleep outside in the winter weather.

SWEP would usually be initiated when it is expected to be below zero for three nights in a row*. Depending on the severity of the weather, provision can often open for more than three nights.

*This year SWEP is better equipped and staffed than previously so to ensure no one has to be out in freezing weather, SWEP will be activated on a daily basis when the weather gets to zero degrees or below at any time overnight.

SWEP is run by a team of staff from Shropshire Council and volunteers comprising of the Shrewsbury Ark, Mental Health team, and other partner agencies. Hot and cold drinks and light snacks, soup, toast, cakes and biscuits are provided free of charge for anyone accessing SWEP.

Each evening housing officers visit all rough sleepers to remind them that this provision is available, and to encourage them to come in from the cold. Police, council, street pastors and others are also helping to ensure everyone is made aware that they don't need to be outside. Taxis are available for those who may be unable to travel easily to a facility. More stressed/anxious/vulnerable clients accessing SWEP will be given a room of their own for the night to ensure they have peace and quiet to ensure they are calm/safe and warm.

Meet Hayley and Alan

Rough Sleeper Outreach Workers, Hayley and Alan, are part of Shropshire Council’s Housing team and form part of a team of five outreach workers who work intensively with people who are rough sleeping or have no other accommodation, and try to find them a permanent home.

The team work with the Shrewsbury Ark who provide ongoing support and day centre facilities for the homeless and vulnerable in our community.

The Rough Sleeper Outreach Team are also part of the wider RESET project, a group of organisations that provide wrap around support for those with drug and alcohol issues who are also sleeping on our streets. The team is made up of officers from organisations such as We Are With You, Intuitive Thinking Skills, Mental Health and Social Prescribing.

How does an average day look for you?

No two days are the same when it comes to our job. Our job varies immensely, depending on who engages with our outreach support and what help they need at that particular time.

We rota the team so we make sure we cover all the key areas across Shropshire. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday we’re out and about in Shrewsbury. Throughout Tuesday and Thursday we’ll go to Market Drayton, Bridgnorth, Ludlow and Whitchurch, to name a few, visiting those who have been reported as sleeping rough either via StreetLink or directly to the council. A visit can take up to three hours or more depending on the circumstances of the client. We work a rota five days a week Monday to Friday but are still available for emergencies at weekends.

Once we get a call we go and look for the person rough sleeping. Many of the people we find are sleeping in cars, forests, alongside canal paths, in garages and even allotment sheds.

We provide emotional support as well as practical help and this can range from checking on the client’s initial welfare to trying to ascertain their history of homelessness, drug/alcohol use, mental health state/problems and financial situation. We'll ensure they have food; we can bring food parcels or refer them to food banks. We get them the initial help they need in quick time so they can engage with services which they may or may not realise exist. They can then call up our Housing Options team to see if they qualify for temporary accommodation.

If we can’t help clients or get them into temporary accommodation, then we’ll signpost them to charities and other organisations that could help.

We’ve recently met one man who was newly homeless after his girlfriend had asked him to leave. As he didn’t have anywhere to go, he ended up rough sleeping.

He’d pitched up in a tent in a field near Market Drayton where we found him. This client was newly homeless and was not aware of the help we could offer. Although he didn't qualify for temporary accommodation (due to rent debts), he was aided with foodbank referrals, advice on getting a job in the area (he was actively looking) and housing advice. He managed to find a local job which meant he had funds enough to look for accommodation on the private rental housing sector, he also managed to find some help from a local farmer who let him use his facilities at his farmhouse. He even slept there the odd night or two. A step-by-step action plan was made for this client in order to set him up for the future. He is currently happily working his way through this whilst still holding down employment.

We’ll also undertake urgent action during Severe Weather Emergency Provision (SWEP) during times when the weather is considered severe. Our team takes action to ensure those who are sleeping rough have access to hot food, support and a warm place to stay at night when the cold winter temperatures kick in. We’ll also go out and issue water, sun cream and other essentials during heatwaves.  

Some of the rough sleepers that are known to us have been sleeping rough for some time, in some cases, years. They may have had negative experiences with support services and therefore find it difficult to trust and often find keeping appointments difficult. We continue to go out to support them as much as we can and write down appointments in our diary to remind them, but the onus is very much on the individual.

What kind of things do you talk about on your visits?

When we get a call, we go and look for the person and once we've found them, we’ll have a chat. If they want to engage with us, we try to find out what has led them to become homeless, this helps us to establish how best we can support them.

We will first meet clients rough sleeping (they must be seen to be rough sleeping in order to get “verified” as a rough sleeper. We then establish a rapport with them and try to find out information such as name, DOB, the reason they are rough sleeping, medical history, drug/alcohol abuse, mental health, financial problems etc. We try to make this flow as a conversation, not an interview. We try to keep this friendly and always say at least one positive thing to the client as “this may be the only positive thing they hear that day”.

Once all relevant information has been obtained, we supply the client with information on food banks and local charities and a phone number to call up the Council Housing Options team later (after 9am) or occasionally we'll call up for them. Based on a series of questions put to them they may be offered temporary accommodation (TA). If not they're not offered, they'll be given advice on how best to find alternative accommodation be it private rentals, agencies or charities they may be able to get help from. We'll stay in touch with clients who have been refused TA via welfare checks in order to ensure they are doing the right things and keeping well.

Whilst most of those who we approach do want help, there are others who chose to not accept our support as this is the lifestyle they choose to have. We will however continue to engage with them and explore if we can support them to access services should they ever change their mind for any reason. It’s really important that people know where to go for help when they are ready to accept it. Our door is always open.

What do you like most about your job?

We love a challenge, and we never give up trying to support anyone who is rough sleeping to help themselves and get their life back. It does take time and patience and above all trust. They need to trust you and you them.

Seeing that change in someone who has lost everything and them coming out the other side is a really positive feeling. Around 80% of those we encounter are just like you and me, they had jobs, families and their own homes. They just happen to have fallen on extremely bad times.

We work with some of the most vulnerable, yet most resilient of clients who’ve had to fight both their internal demons and external prejudices to overcome their predicament and turn their life around. It’s an extremely inspiring and humbling experience.

Every day is different, the job is so varied, and you don’t know what you’ll get day to day.

What we have learned is that there is no quick fix for rough sleepers. The solution is long term and support needs to be ongoing. Supporting someone into accommodation is great but it is the first step and to help prevent someone going back to the street takes support, encouragement and a never give up ethos.

Do you have any stories you can share?

Lots! We had a really successful outcome recently from one of our clients who had come out of prison and had been staying at our centre in Shrewsbury.

Due to a number of reasons, the individual couldn’t qualify for temporary accommodation. We knew the individual really wanted to turn his life around and was doing all the right things to help address his situation and was accessing all the support he needed to help him.    

At the same time, we were notified of an elderly couple who had independently offered a room to a person they had helped off the streets. Unfortunately, the relationship had broken down and the individual had stopped paying for their accommodation, so they required some help in evicting them. This is where we came in, we liaised with the couple and helped with the eviction. At the same time asked the couple if they were willing to offer the now free room to our client who was struggling to find accommodation. With consent we were able to be really honest about the individual they would be helping, so nothing would come as a shock, and they were going into the arrangement with their eyes wide open.

After we arranged a meeting with all involved, our client moved into their new accommodation and they are loving it, they’ve their own studio room with a kitchen and bathroom. We also helped with the rent in advance and payment to the couple for taking our client on.

On top of that our client has now found employment and also help with odd jobs around the couple’s house, which really helps them.

Whilst this is a temporary arrangement, this can really set our client up as he can now have a reference from the couple for when he moves onto to more permanent accommodation, so it's a win win situation for everyone!

We'll always work with anyone who is willing to offer a room for someone who has been rough sleeping, and offer advice and support to both the landlord and client to help establish an arrangement. We can support the landlord by vetting the person and supporting them to gain the skills required to be able to live independently. We also offer an additional one-off payment to landlords who will work with us to accommodate a rough sleeper.  

Another client who had been rough sleeping at nearby fishing area, has recently moved into a property with a social landlord in the county.

Most of our clients only stay with us for very short periods of time whilst we support them to move on. However, one our client had to stay with us for some time as they had undergone an operation that would have made them bed ridden for months. He also needed to attend regular appointments, so it was vital that he had stable accommodation to cater for his post operation needs. Whilst he was here, we worked with him to seek employment and he’s now working full time and is moving into his own flat.

We’ve been working with a local business who throughout the winter months had kindly loaned us camping pods for those who are rough sleeping.

This arrangement has proved really positive for those who have used the accommodation and has had an amazing positive effect on their mental health.

One client staying at the site had started helping the business with odd job tasks and now they’ve taken him on as a carpenter and provided him with a caravan to live in.

Not only does this arrangement help meet the initial needs of those who are rough sleeping, it also provides the business with an income over the winter.

We know that many of those who want help, want to help themselves and turn their lives around, they often just don’t know how. We’re here to do that and provide the right advice and support and we will be with them every step of the way.

Some of our clients still come and visit us as we keep an open-door policy for anyone and everyone we have supported.

Whilst not every person we engage with accepts our support, the vast majority do, and we continue to work with a wide range of partners to support those who do, to find their way back into accommodation and work.

How can our communities help?

It's vital that we provide a means for people to secure better futures, with safe and well-managed accommodation being a key part of our offer.  

We’re always looking for food donations and other household items and utilise what resources and organisations and online donations there are to support rough sleepers.

We’re also happy to talk to people who may have a spare room or other type of accommodation to let.

If anyone would like to offer accommodation, or donate items of food or household items, we’ll be happy to discuss. You can email us at

We also encourage anyone who sees a rough sleeper to contact StreetLink who will signpost them to local services visit.