What does Westminster Homeless Action Together (WHAT) do?
We talk, and we act.
Westminster Homeless Action Together (WHAT) is a partnership that brings together decision-makers from key charities and public sector organisations working in Westminster to discuss and collaborate on reducing the challenges that their clients face. There are many charities and public sector services in Westminster and WHAT is the infrastructure that supports them as a collective.
The Strategy Group provides a platform for dialogue and project development as well as being a critical friend to each other to make sure that we stay on track for our target to end street homelessness in Westminster. The Strategy group consults with people that have lived on the streets as well as front line workers. Through the WHAT network. The Network brings together front line workers and volunteers to share information on the challenges they face day-to-day so that we can help people get off the streets more quickly and reduce the chance of them returning to them.
One of our current projects is called the ‘Day Centre Development Project’ and is a collaboration between the three largest day centres in Westminster – The Connection at St Martin, The Passage and WLM to ensure that their systems complement each other and that the clients receive the most effective means of support.
WHAT now has two part-time employees coordinating the Network and Strategy Groups as well as the Day Centre Development Project.
The Strategy Group and The Network meet quarterly with monthly bulletins, sharing news and information.
The WHAT Network is for employees and volunteers from charities, community groups, faith groups and public sector agencies, that help rough sleepers in the Borough of Westminster. The aim is to share news, information and assist partnership working for projects and initiatives. We have a monthly e-bulletin (sign up here) and quarterly forum meetings.
Westminster Homeless Action Together organised a week of action between 10th and 17th July 2016, during which over 200 volunteers went out onto the streets of Westminster to gather more information about our street homeless population. The week was part of a European-wide initiative to end rough sleeping. This week of action was all about engaging the public in a conversation on the issue of rough sleeping. It was an exercise to listen to homeless people about what had caused them to be homeless and what could make a difference to help them come off the streets. It was also an opportunity for the community in Westminster to be part of helping to provide perspectives and solutions beyond the usual people who work for homeless charities and the local Council.
Although the Mayoral initiative “No Second Night Out” has made great headway in the past few years and now 60-70% of new rough sleepers in Westminster spend only one night outside, the number of rough sleepers is still rising.
Our homeless population is not only rising but we are also seeing changes in their needs and demographics leaving us with a number of key challenges to ending street homelessness:
The housing crisis means that even when people are engaging we may struggle to offer them suitable housing options
Restrictions in public spending as budgets for welfare etc. are cut further
We have an entrenched group of long term rough sleepers with multiple and complex needs
A proportion of rough sleepers are unwilling to engage with services
Changes to benefit laws and the increased migration of peoples across Europe has led to an increase in EU citizens and other non UK born migrants with No Recourse to Public Funds or many who are working in low paid jobs and unable to afford the spiralling rent costs in London
Westminster City Council and charities in the borough are working hard to addressing the continuously changing nature of rough sleeping within the city but we need to do more.