Thames Reach
Sunday 19 November 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 Government’s 'Hostels Initiative' replaces some of the older provisions with much smaller, but higher quality supported housing projects.

The first Bondway supported housing project is set up. Shared housing and self-contained flats, both backed up with specialist support staff, help thousands of former rough sleepers, or those in danger of becoming homeless, in subsequent years across the capital.

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 homelessness.

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. Many of these restrictions are lifted during the 1980s in response to the damage they have caused.

Thames Reach opens a hostel on Stamford Street near Waterloo, now known as the Waterloo Project, where former rough sleepers are offered accommodation and support.

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.


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 for former rough sleepers with serious and enduring mental health problems.

The 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.

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 sends out shifts of staff and volunteers every night of the year to help people sleeping rough come indoors and get help to move on with their lives.

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.

The London Street Rescue service is doubled in size.

Thames Reach launches a campaign to highlight the links between begging and hard drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine.

After a decade where the numbers of people sleeping rough in London had been decreasing, numbers start to rise.

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.

The organisation changes its name from Thames Reach Bondway to Thames Reach.

Thames Reach develops homelessness prevention schemes to support people who may be in danger of losing their tenancies. These new ‘Reach’ floating support schemes are launched with funding from local authorities.

Thames Reach receives funding from the Oak Foundation for the Breakthrough Project which would go on to help significant numbers of formerly homeless people find and maintain employment.

The Brent Reach service is launched, providing specialist support to people in the borough struggling with mental health problems. Elsewhere in the capital Sutton Reach is launched, supporting people with a wide range of problems, including mental health and drug and alcohol issues, and helping them hold onto their tenancies and reduce homelessness in the borough.

Figures indicate that over 20,000 people have been helped off the streets of London in the past decade by outreach teams, including Thames Reach’s London Street Rescue service.

The Mayor of London launches the London Delivery Board with the aim of ending rough sleeping in the capital. 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.

Thames Reach’s London Reconnection team is set up in response to the growing numbers of destitute Central and Eastern European rough sleepers living on London’s streets. Over the next six years, it helps 2,300 people to return home to their families or social services in Europe.

Croydon Reach is established to provide both an outreach service in the borough helping rough sleepers off the streets, and support to settle into accommodation.

Thames Reach launches a new supported housing project called Sutton Step, which provides specialist help for people struggling with substance misuse issues.

A new emergency helpline, StreetLink, is launched by Homeless Link, which the public can phone to report the sighting of anybody they are worried about who is sleeping rough in London – 0300 500 0914. Referrals are also taken at

A No Second Night Out strategy is adopted and the first assessment centre is set up to assist people sleeping rough, who are new to the streets in central London boroughs – over a 1,000 people were helped in its first year. Thames Reach‘s London Street Rescue plays a key role in finding people sleeping rough and taking them to the assessment centre. More assessment centres are subsequently set up in different parts of London and the scheme is widened out to help all rough sleepers.

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

Thames Reach begins 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.

Thames Reach starts running the Camden Spectrum Centre alongside its other award winning resource centres – the Greenhouse walk-in centre in Hackney and Hudson House in 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 works with 415 entrenched rough sleepers and people caught up in a revolving door lifestyle, constantly moving in and out of hostels. The aim was to help people into stable accommodation and reduce rough sleeping in the capital. When the scheme finished in 2016, only 67 people remained on the streets, with most successfully moving into temporary or settled accommodation.

Thames Reach develops the new Peer Landlord model of housing, offering shared housing with low rents for formerly homeless people seeking entry level jobs at Minimum or Living Wage level. Uniquely, one of the residents – the peer landlord – provides informal support to other tenants, giving guidance on housing and employment-related issues.

Thames Reach’s Employment Academy opens in Camberwell. Set in a Grade II listed building covering 20,000 square feet, it helps long-term unemployed Londoners and formerly homeless people find employment. By 2017, up to 1,800 people use its services every month receiving hands-on help with job searches, training and vital basic skills.

The Psychologically Informed Environment is introduced at the Waterloo Project in Lambeth. Here psychologists from SLaM work alongside Thames Reach support staff to help the hostel’s residents get their lives back on track. The scheme has now been extended to other Thames Reach hostels.

An approved mental health professional (AMHP) is embedded within Thames Reach’s Tower Hamlets Street Outreach Response Team in an innovative project to help some of London’s most vulnerable people – nearly 50 per cent of rough sleepers have some form of mental health support need. The AMHP works alongside outreach teams on the streets, conducts mental health assessments, and, if needs be, can section an individual to a hospital where they can receive treatment for any serious mental health problems, which endanger themselves or others. The project is widely praised and in 2016 features on the BBC national news.

The Thames Reach TRIO (Targeted Rapid Intervention Outreach) Team is launched to help rough sleepers, the hidden homeless and vulnerable women in every London borough. Over the next four years, it assists 2,500 individuals.

Thames Reach steps up its drive for giving service users more choice and control over the services they receive by piloting a series of new personalisation schemes.

Thames Reach Greenwich supported housing project expands from one house in 2011 to five houses in 2014, with 25 bed spaces offering accommodation, access to drug treatment and offender management services.

The Croydon Hospital Discharge Project is set up. It reduces the number of discharges of homeless people back onto the streets and prevents unnecessary hospital admissions from the A&E department. Set in Croydon University Hospital, a Thames Reach link worker has developed strong ties with medical, social care, administrative and specialist housing staff both within the hospital and out in the community.

The Thames Reach Skills Programme is set up to help formerly homeless and vulnerable people improve their literacy, numeracy and digital skills, with many progressing to accredited courses, training, volunteering and employment.

One of the largest providers of affordable housing and care in England enters a new partnership with Thames Reach, which will benefit people looking to escape homelessness. Guinness Partnership awards a £250,000 grant, which is used to purchase items that will help people move away from a life on the streets and which will form part of the Thames Reach Hard to Reach Fund.

Thames Reach support workers from the Lambeth Living Well Network move into a new hub in Streatham, the front door for mental health referrals in Lambeth. The hub has staff from a range of professions, including occupational therapists, support workers, social workers, mental health nurses, psychiatrists, and people with a lived experience of mental health. It forms part of the reshaping of mental health services in the borough and is the result of a collaboration between Lambeth Council, health and voluntary sector organisations, such as Thames Reach.

Thames Reach is part of the new Lambeth Integrated Personalised Support Alliance (IPSA) which is set up to transform the lives of people in the borough with serious long-term mental health issues. It offers personalised care and support to improve people’s lives, offering an early intervention before people get into a crisis and require hospital treatment.

The Brokerage and Re-settlement in Lambeth (BRiL) project is set up to give people with mental health issues living in residential care or in hospital wards in the borough the chance to move into their own flat. The project aims to help people move on and lead a more independent life and Thames Reach personal assistants provide support to ensure the new tenants settle into their new home. Funding for the flats includes a £4.2m loan from L&Q and a £520,000 grant from the Monday Charitable Trust. The Lambeth Clinical Commissioning Group will fund the ongoing support and assistance.

Thames Reach run a Tenancy Sustainment Team helping former rough sleepers settle into and retain accommodation in flats provided by the Government and across 16 London boroughs. The service helps the formerly homeless people access health services and meet any support needs related to drug and alcohol misuse, develop new skills, find employment and become more independent.

The latest annual figures for Thames Reach show the charity helped 1,126 rough sleepers off the streets of London between October 1, 2015 and September 30, 2016.

Plans are drawn up to replace the Graham House hostel with a slightly smaller but higher quality and more spacious hostel in Vauxhall.

The Robertson Street hostel near Clapham is set for a £2m refurbishment in early 2017.

In January 2017, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) announced annual rough sleeping figures for England, showing a 16% national increase on last year. The figures, compiled from a series of local authority estimates and street counts taken on a single night in autumn 2016, show that 4,134 people slept rough, up 565 from the 2015 total of 3,569. It is the sixth year in a row that the number of rough sleepers has risen. In 2016, London had 964 rough sleepers, a 3% increase over last year and comprising 23% of the national total, down from 26% in 2015. Thames Reach called on the Government to create a national strategy to end the scandal of rough sleeping.

In London, a more robust set of rough sleeping figures taken over the course of a year, rather than just one night, and compiled from the work undertaken by outreach teams, is available. The latest Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) annual report, Street to Home, April 1 2015 – March 31 2016 shows 8,096 individuals were reported sleeping rough in the capital. This is the highest number since CHAIN was founded in 2000 and a rise of 7% over the previous year.

CHAIN also produces four quarterly reports each year. The latest quarterly figure for London shows 2,818 people slept rough between October 1 and December 31, 2016. This is up on the previous quarter‘s figure of 2,638 for the period between June and September, though this was to be expected and in line with other years, as November routinely shows the highest figures for the number of rough sleepers.

After many years of relentlessly growing numbers on the streets of London, each of the first three quarters in 2016 show a drop against the first three quarters of 2015.

  • During the period April – June 2016, 2,689 people were found sleeping rough, a 3% drop on the 2,775 found during the same period in 2015.
  • During the period July – September 2016, 2,638 people were found sleeping rough, a 9% drop on the 2,869 found during the same period in 2015.
  • During the period October – December 2016, 2,818 people were found sleeping rough, a 2% drop on the 2,862 found during the same period in 2015.