Westminster unveils hidden network of heroes

Tue, 23/07/2019

Tens of thousands of commuters arriving at central London rail stations were greeted with a new sight -a digital advertising campaign from Westminster City Council telling them about the “hidden network of heroes” who help rough sleepers off Westminster’s streets. 

The innovative campaign at London Victoria, London Paddington, London Euston and London Charing Cross stations for 48 hours on 18th July. Digital screens showed a short animation introducing the public to Jo, a former rough sleeper who spent a decade on Westminster’s streets but who now works for the council at Hopkinson House, a hostel which provides help for some of the most entrenched rough sleepers in the capital. 

The campaign marks the beginning of a of a major Westminster City Council initiative to encourage the public to give their money to a network of charities specialised in helping rough sleepers to turn their lives around. A key message of the campaign will be that giving money to rough sleepers - while well-intentioned - often has the effect of keeping people on the streets. 

The Hidden Network of Heroes campaign will instead point the public to donate directly to charities in Westminster for which the hidden heroes work. Donations can be made via www.hidden-network.help/launch.

The hidden heroes include Seamus Manley, service manager at Hopkinson House (run by Look Ahead); Peter Burleigh from Turning Point and Emma Sims and Katie Hannaway, outreach workers for St Mungo’s. You can see their films by going to  www.westminster.gov.uk/rough-sleeping. Westminster has more rough sleepers than any other local authority - more than 300 a night - and despite spending more than £7 million a year on helping those in need, numbers continue to rise. 

Councillor Nickie Aiken, leader of Westminster City Council, said: “We partner with a range of charities who are the real experts in getting rough sleepers the long term help they need – including areas such as mental health treatment or counselling for drug and drink addictions. The film making its debut is all about introducing the public to a network of people they won’t know about but who are doing fantastic work - and thanks to this campaign in rail stations we can get that message to a huge numbers of commuters. 

“People end up living rough on the streets for all sorts of complex reasons, including those driven by mental health and addiction.  Our outreach teams are out every day of the year looking for those new faces arriving on the streets and where rough sleepers engage with us, we can help the majority away from an incredibly dangerous life on the streets. 

“I absolutely understand that people can feel moved to offer money direct to those on the streets. But as former rough sleepers and experts working with them will tell you, that can just perpetuate the life-threatening cycle of street life.

“We are not telling people what to do with their money. Many people feel more comfortable buying someone on the street a coffee and sandwich instead of giving money. With this campaign we are simply providing information that shows a better way to help people off the streets for good so when people do give, they do as an informed choice.” 

Key facts about rough sleeping in Westminster: 

Westminster City Council invests £7m a year – more than any other local authority – to get help to those who genuinely need it. Our teams are out 365 days a year. 

Westminster has more people sleeping rough than anywhere else in the UK - and as the heart of the capital we see new rough sleepers arriving all the time. It’s worth noting that a tiny minority - around 3% - have any historical link with Westminster. We can help most people who engage with us - the vast majority (97%) of new people sleeping rough that engage with us are helped off the streets for good. 

We work closely with our charity partners to provide a comprehensive range of outreach and support services, focused on rapid intervention and sustainable routes off the streets. 

We understand that the public’s generosity of giving money to people sleeping rough or those who beg - while well-meaning – this can cause more harm than good. That doesn’t help because it keeps people on the streets, and sleeping rough is dangerous.  The life expectancy of someone on the streets is just 47.  

The Hidden Heroes Network includes professionals ranging from outreach workers to psychologists, drug and alcohol counsellors, nurses and many more.   

The campaign will raise essential funds for the charities in Westminster who work in partnership with the council. These charities include: St Mungo’s, Look Ahead, Turning Point, West London Mission, The Passage and The Connections at St Martins-in-the-Field. 

Last updated: 23 July 2019