Thames Reach
Monday 23 January 2017
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A history of Thames Reach and homelessness in London

Photograph of a rough sleeper bedded down at night in a shop doorway


  • Only six people recorded sleeping rough on the streets of London.

1960s & 70s

  • Homelessness begins to increase and charities are founded to deal with the growing problem.


  • Bondway Shelter, a dormitory-style hostel in South London, opens.


  • Bondway Housing Association is formed and takes over management of the shelter.

Early 1980s

  • The widespread closure of old-style hostels and reception centres radically reduces the number of hostel beds.
  • The 'Hostels Initiative' replaces some of the older provisions with much smaller, but higher quality supported housing projects.


  • The first of four Bondway supported housing projects – eventually spanning Lambeth, Lewisham, Southwark and Wandsworth – is opened.


  • Thames Reach is set up and funded by the Greater London Council to undertake outreach work with people sleeping rough on the streets of central London. This is in response to growing political concern and embarrassment at the high visibility of homeless people.

Mid 1980s

  • Over 1,000 people are sleeping rough in London on any one night. The numbers of rough sleepers are boosted by restrictions placed on the claiming of welfare benefits to meet 'board and lodgings', and on benefit payments to younger people.


  • Thames Reach opens Stamford Street hostel near Waterloo.

Late 1980s

  • Following pressure from political groups, local authorities and the voluntary sector, the Government creates the first of three successive three-year 'Rough Sleepers Initiatives'. These provide additional services and resources, including an expansion of outreach and resettlement work, and the funding of temporary and permanent accommodation.
  • Thames Reach opens Shroton Street hostel in Marylebone.


  • The Department of Health creates the 'Homeless Mentally Ill Initiative' (HMII), to provide community mental health care and high support accommodation for rough sleepers. Two years later.


  • Thames Reach opens the Aberdour & Galleywall project – the first of its HMII high-support mental health schemes – and forges a long-term partnership with the START Mental Health team in South London.


  • Bondway opens the unique Robertson Street project, providing 42 places for older, vulnerable ex-rough sleepers, many of whom have alcohol problems.
  • Lambeth High Street opens – the second of Thames Reach's HMII accommodation projects. The first of Thames Reach's permanent supported flats also opens, as part of a programme providing over 60 bed spaces in Lambeth and Southwark.


  • The new Labour Government's Social Exclusion Unit undertakes an extensive study of rough sleeping, leading to the creation of the Rough Sleepers' Unit. 620 people are recorded as sleeping rough on any one night across Greater London with 237 in Westminster alone. This figure is only a snapshot from a single night and the numbers sleeping rough over the year are far greater.


  • Thames Reach is awarded the contracts for outreach work with rough sleepers in two of the busiest areas in central London, covering most of Westminster.


  • The Graham House hostel opens, replacing the old Bondway Shelter.
  • Thames Reach and Bondway merge, creating one of the largest homelessness charities in London. The Bondway Soup Run is replaced by the London Street Rescue outreach service, which encourages people on the street to move into accommodation.
  • The Rough Sleepers Unit announces that its primary target set by government – a two-thirds reduction in the numbers of people sleeping rough across England – has been met.


  • Street counts in Westminster, the borough with the highest concentration of rough sleepers in the country, show fewer than 150 people sleeping out on any one night, the lowest figure for twenty years.
  • Thames Reach launches a campaign to highlight the links between begging and hard drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine.


  • Thames Reach Bondway launches the GROW scheme – Giving Real Opportunities for Work – which aims to foster an environment within the organisation and the sector that encourages the employment of people with experience of homelessness. A target is set of having 20 per cent of the workforce made up of former homeless people by the end of 2009 – a target that is successfully met.
  • Thames Reach launches a campaign highlighting the dangers of super-strength lagers and ciders which have become one of the biggest killers of homeless people.
    It calls for higher taxes on the drinks in a bid to discourage people from consuming these very strong and cheap drinks and in a bid to see people switching to weaker and less harmful brands.
  • It also calls on the drinks industry to behave more responsibly.


  • Thames Reach Bondway focuses on the prevention of homelessness among people who may be in danger of losing their tenancies. New ‘Reach’ floating support schemes are launched with funding from local authorities.
  • By 2012, the charity is running six separate Reach schemes across London in the boroughs of Brent, Croydon, Hackney, Hammersmith and Fulham, Lewisham and Sutton.


  • The organisation changes its name to Thames Reach.


  • After a decade where the numbers of people sleeping rough in London had been decreasing, numbers start to rise. Between 2004/5 and 2006/7, there is a 14 per cent rise with nearly 3000 people sleeping rough across the course of the year.


  • Thames Reach launches a campaign to highlight the plight of the ‘young olds’ – vulnerable middle aged former rough sleepers suffering from the types of life-threatening problems more common among people twenty years older.
  • Homelessness, addiction to super-strength lagers and ciders, heroin and crack cocaine abuse have all taken their toll on these people.
  • Heart and liver disease, memory loss, incontinence and poor mobility are the results.
  • Thames Reach calls on local authorities to give greater priority to developing projects which will help these people enjoy a better quality of life.


  • Over 20,000 people have been helped off the streets of London in the past decade by outreach teams such as Thames Reach’s London Street Rescue service.


  • The Mayor of London’s launches the London Delivery Board with the aim of ending rough sleeping in the capital by the end of 2012.
  • Composed of councils, homelessness charities including Thames Reach, the police and other key players, its aim has been to both help those people living on the streets to escape homelessness and to provide extra resources meaning no one new to the streets spends a second night there.


  • The London Delivery Board launches a plan to help the 205 most entrenched rough sleepers in London who are living on the streets. By 2012, over three quarters of them are no longer on the streets.


  • A new emergency helpline is launched which the public can phone to report the sighting of anybody they are worried about as they been spotted sleeping rough in London – 0870 383 3333


  • In 2011, the No Second Night Out strategy saw the introduction of an assessment centre in Islington dealing with people new to the streets in central London boroughs and that helped over a 1000 people in its first year. Thames Reach‘s London Street Rescue plays a key role in finding people and taking them to the assessment centre.


  • The government increases the tax on super-strength lagers following a lengthy Thames Reach campaign.


  • Thames Reach is involved in innovative work with the Living Well collaborative, a coalition of commissioners, service users, carers and providers who are reshaping the way mental health services are provided in the London borough of Lambeth. Staff from its Community Options Team help people to manage their own recovery in the community.


  • Government figures for autumn 2011 compiled from data provided by all 326 local authorities across England – from both rough sleeping counts and estimates – indicates a total of 2,181 people sleeping rough. This is up by 413 – 23 per cent – from the autumn 2010 total of 1,768. London had the highest number of rough sleepers with a total of nearly 450.
  • The street counts represent a snapshot of the number of people sleeping rough on a single night.


  • Rough sleeping figures are collected through local authority street counts and estimates. All 326 local housing authorities across England provided a figure.
  • Street counts were undertaken by 46 local authorities where it was believed that the local rough sleeping problem justified counting and estimates were provided by the other 283 local authorities.
  • The street counts and estimates represent a snapshot of the number of people sleeping rough on a single night.
  • The Autumn 2012 total of rough sleeping counts and estimates indicates a total of 2,309 people. This is up by 128 – 6 per cent – from the Autumn 2011 total of 2,181.
  • Thames Reach has gone on record to query some of these estimates and whether they accurately reflect the situation on any one night – some towns have estimated higher figures than those reported by councils conducting street counts in well-developed urban areas with well established and higher levels of homelessness support services. This could indicate some local authorities have misinterpreted the Government’s guidance and are not estimating the number of on any one night but across a longer timescale. Examples of this include figures of 25 people for Colchester and 26 Chichester for any one night, which seem particularly high, bearing in mind snapshot figures in London are approximately only ten per cent of the annual total.
  • London had the largest number of rough sleepers at 557, which accounted for 24% of the total. This percentage is probably an underestimate once the misinterpretation of government guidelines for counting by other areas is taken into account.


  • 5,678 people were seen sleeping rough by outreach workers in London across the course of the year between April 1 2011 and March 31, 2012. This is an increase of 43% compared to 201/11. Enhanced levels of outreach services as part of No Second Night Out means that people sleeping rough, and in particular new people to the streets, are more likely to be contacted. The greatest increase occurred in April to May 2011, when the No Second Night Out project started.


  • Thames Reach starts running the Camden Spectrum Centre alongside its other award winning resource centres in Hackney and Stockwell. These resource centres are dedicated to helping homeless people turn their lives around.


  • Thames Reach launches ACE, an innovative payment by results project, which will work with 415 entrenched rough sleepers and people caught up in a revolving door lifestyle, constantly moving in and out of hostels.  The aim is help people into stable accommodation and reduce rough sleeping in the capital.


  • Thames Reach’s Employment Academy opens in Camberwell.  Set in a Grade II listed building covering 20,000 square feet, its aim will be to help thousands of long-term unemployed Londoners and formerly homeless people find employment. It specialises in the fields of catering, social care, construction, security and retail.


  • The number of rough sleepers found by outreach teams on London’s streets has increased by 13% over the past year.

    6,437 people were seen sleeping rough between April 1 2012 and March 31 2013 compared with 5,678 for the previous year. It comes on top of a 43% increase in 2010/11.

    The figures were released in the Street to Home CHAIN annual report collated by Broadway which records the work undertaken by charities such as Thames Reach, which runs a series of outreach teams operating across the capital.

    The report also showed that only 3% or 197 of the total of rough sleepers in the capital were seen in all four quarters of the period indicating that efforts to help people living on the streets were successful.

    The number of people who were only seen once on the streets was 3,255, rising from 70% to 75%, indicating the success of the No Second Night Out strategy in London.

    Just over half, or 53% of the total of rough sleepers, were non UK nationals with Central and Eastern Europeans making up 28% of the total.

    12% or 786 of the total people sleeping rough were female.

    Recent reports about youth homelessness weren’t backed up by the CHAIN annual report which indicated that only six people under 18 or less than 0.1% of the total were found by outreach teams. 3,708 or 58% of London's rough sleepers were aged between 26-45 while nine per cent or 581 of London’s rough sleepers were over 55.


  • Thames Reach steps up its drive for giving service users more choice and control over the services they receive by piloting a series of personalisation schemes. Working with Resolving Chaos and St Giles Trust, the new E-Choice Channel, an interactive website where service users can spend their personal budget, begins development.


  • Partnerships with health authorities are playing an important role across Thames Reach. The Psychologically Informed Environment at the Waterloo Project in Lambeth celebrates its second anniversary. Here psychologists work alongside Thames Reach support staff to help the hostel’s residents get their lives back on track. Elsewhere, Thames Reach’s 3 Dimensions of Care for Diabetes (3FDF) wins a prestigious British Medical Journal Award.


  • The number of rough sleepers found by outreach teams on London’s streets has increased by 1% over the past year.
  • 6,508 people were seen sleeping rough between April 1 2013 and March 31 2014 compared with 6,437 for 2012/2013. It comes on top of a 13% increase when comparing 2011/12 and 2012/13 and a 43% increase between 2010/11 and 2011/12.
  • These increases have happened however at a time when street outreach services have been expanded and a new No Second Night Out strategy was introduced to the capital in April 2011.
  • In total, outreach teams and other services helped 2,452 people off the streets into accommodation during the year.


  • Thames Reach’s London Reconnection team celebrates its fifth anniversary since being founded. Since 2009, 2,300 people destitute on London’s streets were helped to return home to their families or social services in Europe.


  • Thames Reach’s London Street Rescue works with 2,000 rough sleepers over the course of year (April 12013-March 30 2014)


  • The Thames Reach TRIO (Targeted Rapid Intervention Outreach) Team enters its second year of service. Its first year saw it helping over 2,000 individuals within ‘hotspots’ in London, areas where rough sleepers gather, and also hidden rough sleeping sites. A total of 264 rough sleeping sites are closed down and the individuals there given help to escape homelessness. In partnership with Eaves, 480 women are given support to avoid the risk of homelessness.