This winter, StreetLink – the service that enables the public to send an alert to connect someone sleeping rough to local support – turns ten.
Today, as we host a reception at the House of Lords to celebrate the achievements of StreetLink, it strikes me how much rough sleeping numbers have fluctuated, the variety of situations people have had to face on the streets and how much has been undertaken to address rough sleeping in the past decade. Of course, this moment is also bitter-sweet, as I cannot help but be keenly aware the rough sleeping is once again on the rise – the continued need for StreetLink itself gives pause for solemn reflection.
Homeless Link founded StreetLink in 2012, working with Broadway (now St Mungo's), to address a gap in the rough sleeping support system. Vitally, it aimed to give members of the public a means to take action when they see someone sleeping rough, and to ensure that people sleeping rough who don’t know what help is available and are unknown to services, are connected with support.
From the outset, the two key funders have been the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (previously the Department of Communities and Local Government) and the Greater London Authority. The Welsh Government and public fundraising now also fund the service and we are grateful for their support.
I’d also like to mention our corporate supporters: Salesforce who sponsored the rebuild of the platform in 2017, Network Rail, TfL, the train operating companies, and BIFFA among others, who promote us to their staff and customers and Clear Channel for their pro bono advertising support.
We are proud of the role that StreetLink has played in helping to end rough sleeping. Over the past decade, StreetLink has:
- managed over half a million alerts about people sleeping rough
- put almost 90,000 people in touch with the support they needed to escape rough sleeping
- secured over 300,000 registrations from members of the public who use and support the service
As awareness of the service grew over the years, alerts also grew, from an average of 1200 a month in 2013 to 6000 a month in 2022. We’ve handled particular spikes at times of extremely cold weather, notably during the ‘Beast from the East’ of February 2018 and recently in December last year when SWEP was active across large parts of the country for over a week. The first Covid-19 pandemic lock down saw another influx of alerts, with people who were sleeping rough themselves reaching out for support.
The small phone line staff team at St Mungo's, supported by our excellent volunteers, works incredibly hard during these periods to ensure that as many people as possible are connected with essential support.
A key aim of StreetLink has always been to empower the public to get involved with ending rough sleeping.
The supporter community has thereby grown following a similar pattern to those of the alerts, with an increased number of supporters and followers on social media coinciding with major weather events, as well as the redevelopment of the product in 2017 and the rebrand in 2021, as we also upped the volume and urgency of our communications around the service. These large numbers are hugely encouraging; testament to the fact that people do care about people sleeping rough and want a way to help make a lasting difference.
The Government’s rough sleeping strategy, ‘Ending Rough Sleeping for Good’, published in September 2022, particularly highlights this public engagement element of StreetLink and commits to continued funding to improve the service so that the public can play their part in supporting people sleeping rough.
We are keenly aware that StreetLink is one cog within the much wider rough sleeping support system, and we hugely value our partnerships with the local outreach teams and the support of the wider sector. This collaboration is just one example of how our sector works together to achieve remarkable results.
And of course, rough sleeping is only the tip of the homelessness iceberg. Making a connection with StreetLink does not, unfortunately, guarantee that housing and bedspaces will be available, nor the necessary wrap-around support to keep people in their homes and prevent homelessness in the first place. These are bigger challenges that we will continue to work together on.
With rough sleeping currently increasing and high on the public agenda due to the cost of living crisis and more frequent periods of extreme weather, StreetLink remains as relevant and important as ever.
I’d like to share a comment made by someone who has had his life turned around because of StreetLink, which perfectly sums up the purpose of the service and why we do what we do:
I didn’t know what StreetLink was but I’m glad someone did, can’t believe you came out here and found me in the middle of nowhere... I’m going to be moved into my own place soon hopefully.
Ultimately though, it is unacceptable that people should have to sleep or live on the streets. We believe that together we can end rough sleeping and look forward to a time when StreetLink is not needed.