Skip To Main Content

Cambridge City Council

Support for rough sleepers in Cambridge and how to help during Street Aid Week

6 October 2023

Cardboard sign reads "I had a breakdown". Poster states 'Everyone has a back story, but we're here to help rough sleepers start the next chapter
Cardboard sign reads "I escaped an abusive relationship". Poster states 'Everyone has a back story, but we're here to help rough sleepers start the next chapter
Cardboard sign reads "I lost my job". Poster states 'Everyone has a back story, but we're here to help rough sleepers start the next chapter

A new campaign launches in Cambridge on Monday (9 October) to help residents and visitors understand why there are rough sleepers in the city, how the council and partners support them, and how local people can help too.

The message is that everyone has a back story, but the council and local partners are able to offer support to each individual rough sleeper in Cambridge to help start a new chapter and make a permanent move away from a street-based lifestyle.

In many cases, rough sleepers will have experienced trauma or adversity in their lives. Some may have mental ill-health, some may struggle with alcohol or drugs. It is often these life events and circumstances that not only lead to someone sleeping on the streets in the first place, but also create long-term barriers to rough sleepers feeling able to accept support to move away from a street-based lifestyle.

The campaign is launching to coincide with the council’s annual Street Aid Week, which raises awareness of Cambridge Street Aid and runs from 9 to 13 October. Street Aid was set up in 2016 for two reasons:

  • To give local people an alternative way to support rough sleepers other than giving cash – a practice which, however understandable, runs a high risk of making things worse rather than better. 
  • To pool people’s donations to provide bigger, more meaningful grants to help rough sleepers to get off, and stay off, the streets. The grants could fund therapy, or training to get back into work; cover the costs of transport to work, or essential ID documents to find work or accommodation; help pay for furniture and other essential household items where people move into private accommodation; and much more.

The campaign also aims to educate people about the availability of support in Cambridge. Rough sleepers do not need to beg for money to access a place to sleep, meals, or laundry and shower facilities. The offer of accommodation is there for people in Cambridge who have been verified by the local street outreach team, if or when they are ready to accept it. Nobody can be compelled to accept or remain in accommodation offered to them, with some people who are used to being part of a street-based community finding it very difficult to remain in accommodation off the streets.

These services are available to Cambridge’s rough sleepers, free of charge, thanks to a number of local organisations which provide these facilities year-round – including those organisations that make up the new Streets to Homes service in Cambridge.

An important part of this work is getting to know repeat rough sleepers and building trusting relationships with them, so that they can be supported if and when they wish to move away from a street-based life. As part of this, Cambridge City Council has a new Team Around a Person service, which focuses on providing personalised support through individual plans to support each person who is rough sleeping in Cambridge – including personalised support with issues such as mental ill-health, or drug or alcohol dependency. The council has also recently delivered 16 modular homes, with a further four approved, to provide former rough sleepers with somewhere of their own as they make that initial move away from the streets.

People who would like to help provide essential support for people rough sleeping in Cambridge can do so in a number of ways:

Cllr Alice Gilderdale, Executive Councillor for Community Wealth Building and Community Safety, said: “Street Aid was set up to respond to the challenge many of us face, when we see someone rough sleeping in our city and instinctively want to do something to help – but may not know what to do for the best. The benefit of donating to Street Aid is that you can be sure your donation will make a tangible, long-term difference to someone’s journey off the streets. Pooling people’s small change together opens up opportunities for individuals by paying for things like therapy, training or equipment, clothes, laptops or furniture.

“No-one should be without a roof over their head, and it’s important that we help people understand the complicated nature of the support that people who are rough sleeping require. As part of this I’m pleased that our new personalised Team Around a Person service is doing this, and helping to support each individual create a plan that works for them.”

Cllr Gerri Bird, Executive Councillor for Housing and Homelessness, said: “Supporting rough sleepers is not a straight-forward process. I know that sometimes people get the impression that people are sleeping rough because the council hasn’t offered them any accommodation, but that is not correct. The o­ffer of accommodation is there for people who are rough sleeping in Cambridge, but we can’t force people who may be dealing with other issues to take up this offer when they are not ready to.

“Anyone who is at risk of losing their home should get in touch with our Housing Advice Service at the earliest opportunity. It may be that we can support you to stay in your current home, to find suitable alternative accommodation, or in an emergency to find temporary accommodation – no-one should be ending up with nowhere to sleep.”

Find out more about the campaign, Street Aid, and support for people who are rough sleeping in Cambridge.