WHAT did we discover #? Petra Salva blogs about initial findings

I can hardly believe it was less than a month ago when volunteers came along to our first training sessions at the Abbey Community Centre.

Since then we have achieved a lot!

With everyone’s help, we have completed a unique event – the first UK volunteer community survey of its kind of people sleeping rough.

More than 300 volunteers signed up, speaking over 36 languages, and gave a minimum of ten hours each to the WHAT project.

Over three nights and one morning volunteers covered over eight square miles of Westminster in 32 teams. Our volunteers encountered 461 people sleeping rough on the streets.

Those volunteers and people who were surveyed were invited to come to our Thank You event on Tuesday 19 July where they heard some of the headline findings. These were that:

  • Of the 461 people met, 58% agreed to participate in the survey
  •  A total of 267 surveys were completed
  • 87% of people met were men and 11% were women
  • A further 15 separate women’s surveys undertaken during the day on Thursday and are being analysed separately
  • 47% of people met were 35 or under
  • 61% said they had no income of any shape or form
  • A quarter said they had chronic health issues and almost half (47%) said they avoid seeking help when not feeling well
  • More than a third (34%) had been beaten up or attacked since sleeping rough
  • Nearly a quarter hadn’t been in permanent stable housing for two years; 54% had been previously housed and ended up back on the streets
  • About half (49%) had come to London for work
  • 10% were working while sleeping rough
  • 39% of women and 22% of men said homelessness had been caused by a traumatic experience
  • Just under half of people surveyed were from the UK (44%), with the next highest group Rumanian
  • A third – 34% - said they were not in contact with any services – and of these 72% said they wanted to be.

The efforts and commitment of our volunteers were inspiring. However, the reality of the situation makes me more determined to keep this momentum going and harness the community spirit so we can really change things for those people sleeping rough.

We have to do more. It's not ok for this to be taking place under our noses and it's a scandal. One man told me "I have accepted that I will die on the streets.” This is not ok and I don't accept that more cannot be done.

So WHAT next? Our aims were to raise the profile and increase understanding of the challenges of the growing problem of rough sleeping. I hope your understanding and awareness has increased and we were pleased to see WHAT featured in the Observer as well as on BBC London TV news. Thank you too for your social media push - #WHATJuly16.

Another aim was to take a fresh look through different eyes – our volunteers’ eyes – and tap into different thinking. Thank you to those who gave us reflections at the Thank You event, which is being fed into a final report.

So WHAT’s the plan from here?

  1.  The data collected will be analysed in depth
  2. Ideas and comments will be fed into a final report by the end of August ready to be shared with wider partners

We have asked our volunteers not to stop now. This is just the beginning.

That could be through volunteering with one of the charities involved, or campaigning.

Check out the current volunteering opportunities here: St Mungo’s, The Passage, Connections at St Martin's in the Field, The Abbey Centre, West London Mission, Groundswell and with their respective campaigns.

Also, if you live, work, or study in Croydon, you can get involved in the next stage of the European End Street Homelessness Campaign. Click here for more info.

Why must we not stop?  Because each night about 15 new people sleep rough for the first time on our streets. You can help change that. Across London and Europe we can end street homelessness.