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Pioneering pilot helps Birmingham street homeless into housing

Birmingham New Street station staff have joined forces with the housing charity Shelter to help people sleeping rough around the major transport hub. The pioneering partnership has seen Network Rail staff specially trained by Shelter Engagement workers as part of a new outreach scheme which began in December 2020.

Network Rail staff work with Shelter’s own engagement workers to connect and refer the people they encounter sleeping rough with Shelter’s expert services in order to provide them with tailored help and support. Since the pilot started, 68 people who were sleeping rough in or around Birmingham New Street station have been helped by the partnership.

The help includes support to access to different services, such as registering with a GP, mental health services and setting up a bank account.

Crucially, 43 people have been helped into emergency or temporary accommodation, and a further five have been helped into permanent accommodation so far. Manchester Piccadilly station has also been involved in the joint initiative, with a total of 168 people helped across both cities.

Many of the people helped have been living on the streets for a long time, and the interventions by the outreach staff in the stations are a first step in the process to securing permanent accommodation and life-changing support. One of the people helped was Ryan, 39, who had been sleeping rough at the station for four months during the pandemic.

Through the pilot he has been supported by Shelter with a number of issues, including addiction, and has since been connected with a local rehab provider and helped into 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 given to Birmingham New Street workers by Shelter has given them confidence in how to sensitively approach people sleeping rough and share the options available to them for help and support. This includes staff learning about the complex and traumatising factors which can lead to someone 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.”

The Shelter Outreach project forms part of Network Rail’s five year ‘Routes out of Homelessness’ campaign.

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