Shelter and Network Rail station outreach helps more than 300 homeless people

Over 300 people sleeping rough have been helped by a pioneering partnership between housing and homelessness charity Shelter, and two of Network Rail’s largest railway stations.

For the last year station staff at Manchester Piccadilly and Birmingham New Street have teamed up with the charity to find a route out of homelessness for people who are living on the streets around the major transport hubs.

Through the pilot, station staff have been specially trained by Shelter to connect and refer the people they encounter sleeping rough for tailored help and support.

Interventions by the outreach staff in the stations can be a first step in the process to securing settled accommodation and life-changing support for people living on the streets, some of whom have been sleeping rough for a long time.

To date the initiative has helped 316 people who were sleeping rough in or around the two major stations. The help includes support to access essential services, such as registering with a GP, mental health services and setting up a bank account, as well as support to access accommodation.

15 have secured settled housing, and another 135 have been helped into temporary accommodation. As it enters its second year the initiative hopes to do further work and help find settled housing for even more people on their journey out of homelessness.

One of the people helped was Ryan, 40, who had been sleeping rough around Birmingham New Street station for four months during the pandemic. Through the pilot he was supported by Shelter with a number of issues, including addiction, and is currently living in supported recovery accommodation.

Ryan said: “This time a year ago life was very different, and I remember feeling like there was no way out. But since that first ‘hello’ at the station, things have only got brighter. When the engagement workers reached out it felt like someone had thrown me a lifeline. I was given options that I never knew were even available to me, and they supported me every step of the way. Thanks to them I’ve not only got a safe home, but also a chance to see my daughter. For the first time in years I have hope for the future.”

The pilot will also see the opening of a new dedicated welfare room for the outreach project at Birmingham New Street station.

The room, furnished with donated furniture from Shelter’s partner and online retailer Wayfair, will give those seeking help a private space to have a hot drink and speak to engagement workers and station staff, away from the hustle of the station concourse. It’s thought to be the first dedicated room of its kind at a British railway station. A similar welfare room at Manchester Piccadilly is due to open in the coming weeks.

Tim Shoveller, Network Rail’s North West and Central region managing director, said: “It’s fantastic to see the real impact this outreach scheme has made to lives like Ryan’s and dozens of others in both Manchester and Birmingham, and the opening of the new welfare rooms.

“Before this partnership between Network Rail and Shelter, station staff often felt powerless because they didn’t know how best to help those without a safe and secure place to sleep for the night. Ryan’s success shows how equipping railway workers with the knowledge and skills to help people find a route out of homelessness can really turn lives around.”

Vicky Hines, Birmingham Shelter Hub Manager said: “These pilots have shown us all what is possible when we come together to support people who find themselves sleeping rough. Someone knowing they’ve got options and don’t have to face homelessness alone can change their life forever.

“The station team’s commitment has been inspiring, and we’re really proud we’ve been able to empower them to help hundreds of people in and around the stations. In the second year of our partnership with Network Rail, we hope to offer even more people a route out of homelessness.”

Network Rail and Shelter have partnered for a second year to continue to deliver the outreach service in both locations, working closely with the Department for Transport.

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

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Photo credit: Network Rail

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