In those most desperate of weeks that crossed Christmas and the New Year I was getting daily updates on the Somali couple living rough outside TK Maxx on a busy south London street. A mother and son both with severe and enduring mental health problems, exhibiting delusional behaviour and severe self-neglect. They had been there for months, resisting all offers of accommodation or hospital treatment. Engagement with mental health specialists, our outreach workers, the police and members of the Somali community had all been in vain. Over the months their belongings blossomed around them. Carrier bags within carrier bags, suitcases, bedding, food cartons: the detritus of the destitute. Around the corner and out of sight of passers-by stood buckets in which they defecated.
With Christmas approaching and the temperature falling the plight of the Somali couple became a shared obsession. Multi-agency case conferences took place to consider their mental capacity to make decisions and the last resort option of a compulsory admission to hospital using the Mental Health Act, was mooted. By now we were visiting daily, all of us dismally remembering a woman rough sleeper who, in similar fashion, resisted leaving the streets and was eventually found dead.
It was a period of bitter weather; low temperatures and prolonged rain, the killer combination for rough sleepers, a time to increase the number of outreach shifts and when the vigilance of the public in spotting isolated rough sleepers and contacting us on their behalf is crucial.
A shorter version of this blog was published in Inside Housing magazine on June 5th 2015