Sleeping out

I was out on a night shift last week with the St Mungo’s outreach service in Southwark. These pictures were taken when we were following up a referral for a rough sleeper (apparently a man, but he wasn’t around when we got there) on a notorious, now boarded up estate in the borough.

It was an interesting evening. I saw more women out than I have done on previous shifts, and it brought into reality many of the stories I have been hearing about how women often stay in couples for protection, and tend not to sleep where they are easily visible. We saw four women in total, one who I already knew.  Three were in couples (two of them in stairwells on another estate), and one was asleep in a car.

It definitely felt like the winter was really settling in that night, and although the women were ‘hidden’ from view, the places they were sleeping felt eerie and frightening to me. We weren’t able to talk to any of them for this project, two didn’t want to and it wasn’t appropriate to ask the others, but we did get the chance for brief conversations.

One of the ladies was new to the streets and so we were able to take her up to the Assessment Hub – part of the No Second Night Out initiative, where they will assess her needs and help her move on from there, hopefully putting an end to her time sleeping rough. One lady, in a couple, peered her head out of her makeshift tent at the back of an estate. She was very friendly, amazingly so in fact, as she had already bedded down for the night. At midnight I really don’t blame her!

We are going to head out again, this time on an early morning shift. We will hopefully meet people as they are getting up rather than just going off to sleep and will be able to visit some places not safe to go at night.

Four hours out, no audio on record and only two pictures without a woman in sight – but still hugely worthwhile. All the same, another reminder that I can’t expect to speak to these woman straight away.

The sleeping site of a rough sleeper

A St Mungo's outreach worker checks the other garages for rough sleepers after hearing a noise in one of them.

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