Face-to-face with the reality of lives of the homeless in Ilford
07:00 26 June 2014
A man’s eyes filled with tears as he told an outreach worker “I need a home” on Monday. He was sitting on a bench in High Road, Ilford, with four others, one of whom said he had been on the streets for 14 years.
Redbridge Outreach Service, Ilford Police and the Refugee and Migrant Forum have teamed up to tackle street drinking.
The Recorder accompanied them on Operation Outreach as they walked through the town to offer support to those living on the streets.
Street drinking is on the rise in Ilford. Police have reported an increase in complaints and the outreach service, established to tackle substance misuse, now deals with 10 cases of alcohol abuse for each drug user.
Four homeless men sat on a bench in High Road were the first we came upon, less than a minute into our search.
One man told outreach workers he was hungry and that he needed a home.
Jessica Hardwick, Redbridge Outreach Service manager, said that street drinking is becoming more visible but that tackling the problem is not simple.
She said: “Street drinkers are not just street drinkers, there are other problems.
“Today is about intelligence building. We need to know more about these street drinkers, why they do not engage and how we can get them to engage in support?”
As we walked through the town centre, outreach workers and police came upon a familiar face.
Trevor Holloway has been living on the streets for about four years and painted a bleak picture of his life.
He said: “Living on the street is not good. Cold. Obnoxious. I’ve met people that want to beat people up. You stink, you have no clean clothes.”
Redbridge Outreach Support has worked with Trevor. “They’re good because they try to help you,” he said.
The reality of life on the street had been explained to us before we had left Ilford police station.
Chief Insp John Fish showed us a picture taken over the weekend of the victim of an assault. The face of the man, who is known to be homeless, was covered in dried blood.
Mr Fish told those gathered: “That photo alone showed me why we need to do something.
“These are the most vulnerable people we are likely to come across.”
There were more people requiring support that we found in the graveyard of St Mary the Virgin Church in High Road where many of Ilford’s homeless come to sleep.
A tent was strung up behind a tree creating a crude shelter while a blanket, shoes and an empty container of shower gel were strewn across the grass.
As we arrived, two men were taking a nap in the centre of the graveyard – both gave their details to outreach workers who will try to help them.
Back in the town centre a man was begging in an alleyway. He told outreach workers of a myriad of problems he needed help with, including alcohol abuse.
Operation Outreach was the brainchild of Pc Arif Mahmood.
He said the aim of the operation was to offer support to some of the most vulnerable people in society, something the police do not have the power to do alone.