The story behind the Southend Rough Sleeper leaflet

The story behind the Southend Rough Sleeper leaflet

I have just released to the world version 5.3 of the Southend Rough Sleeper Leaflet (see here) and I want to use this opportunity to explain why this is important, how we got to where we are today and what was my part in it.

When Sir Francis Bacon published in his work, Meditationes Sacrae (1597), the saying: “knowledge itself is power”, he most likely wanted to transmit the idea that having and sharing knowledge is the cornerstone of reputation and influence, and therefore power; all achievements emanate from this

I mention this quote because back in the day when I was involved in a joint partnership project to produce the Southend Mental Health Directory (see here for a draft of the third edition), a resource that at the time met a real need, as it told readers what resources were available to help address those needs. The quote was told to the audience by a dignitary when the directory was launched. I like to think the power was not so much with those responsible for the directory but rather to the thus empowered beneficiaries – those experiencing mental health issues. One of my early assignments when, soon after the turn of the millennium, I began to embark on my third career as a community worker (come activist), was to research the information that was needed.

My mental health community interest has never left me but I then began to find other community interests, notably homelessness and all the triggers and consequences that go with it. Some 15 years ago we began SHAN (check out “SHAN, Homelessness in Southend and my involvement”). Early on we saw the need for quality information on the resources that were around that could help those who found themselves to be homeless and, in those days, there was considerably less than there is today although the problem has grown. Our local council produced a credit card size concertina style leaflet that gave lots of helpful information and contact details of what was around to help rough sleepers. But they were unable to maintain it and in the meantime there were many changes.

This is where we (SHAN) stepped in with our four-page leaflet (effectively double sided, A4 folded) using (with permission) what our Council friends had come up with earlier as our starting point. We made the necessary corrections and included other information concerning helpful resources that either materialised in the interim or were missing in the first place. The challenge then, and even more so now as we find more relevant information, was to fit it all in to what amounted to a single sheet of paper that can be printed off from any printer. Inevitably, the many aspects of each of the organisations mentioned often had to be fitted into a mere 2 or 3 lines. We did what we could to let “interested parties” know what we had done make our leaflet available (hard copy and later via the Internet) including going along to different centres and presenting them with copies of the leaflet.

In the years that followed, several updates were made to the leaflet and, notably, while services came and went, more came than went, and while there were contrasting approaches to helping the homeless, e.g. between the statutory and voluntary sectors, we saw many examples of partnership working. The need remains concerning the homeless and vulnerable and the triggers for becoming and the needs once homeless are as great as ever. A lack of suitable available accommodation and services to address homeless cause and effect remain. The leaflet tried to address all these factors and does so without being patronising or judgmental or ignoring the fact different services help meet different needs. It happened the version of the leaflet for public consumption before this one, just released, was v4.2, and that was over two years ago in the middle of the Covid pandemic which itself posed challenges on how best to help. It was a monumental effort involving contributions from many to produce this current v5.3 version. No doubt there will be omissions and certainly will be changes.

Perhaps the last word about the leaflet specifically should be the last words in the leaflet, which encapsulates the philosophy behind the leaflet and, in short, that is to empower those who find themselves homeless: “We have provided a lot of what we believe to be unbiased, relevant, accurate information. Hopefully, some of it will prove useful and help you get the help you need, noting services do vary and will change. Being homeless and having to sleep rough can be a distressing time but there is much help to be had and many who want to help. We have tried not to patronise or tell you what you have to do. Our wish is merely that you survive, thrive and be empowered”.

The question is begged: where do we go from here? I hope the leaflet will be distributed to those who may benefit, but experience tells me never to assume. I hope too it will be maintained as inevitable changes occur. I have passed the leaflet to SAVS for ongoing updates. Ever since my involvement with the mental health directory, SAVS has been at the forefront of providing quality information. There is a lot out there but it is knowing where to look. Others address homeless issues. In my recent research, I was impressed by a leaflet produced by “Southend Integrated Homeless Healthcare” aimed at rough sleepers but more from a health perspective. They name Southend City Council, HARP, SVP and One Love as first places to go for help – and I agree, albeit with the caveat that some services not mentioned are more appropriate to individual homeless folk than others, according to circumstances.

As I pass the proverbial baton to a new generation, might I suggest:

  1. Knowledge is indeed power and empowering homeless folk by providing information as to where to go for help etc. is one of the ways we can make a difference.
  2. Partnership and co-operation is the way to go and all the “players” out there helping the homeless have information to share that can be used for the common good.
  3. All too often, information is made available but then it is not updated. Given the Internet these days is fast, free, widespread and covers most things, there is no excuse not doing so.
  4. While it is true: “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink”, it is still important to begin by doing the leading, which also begs the question: where is the first port of call, how ports connect and our part to encourage the people we want to help “to drink”?
  5. We are all human. Knowingly or otherwise, all have agendas etc., but we render the greatest service when our endeavours help the homeless and vulnerable find that “better place”.

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