Like many city and town centres across the UK, Liverpool is faced with the challenge of begging, addiction, poverty and anti-social behaviour. To meet this challenge, a new approach to delivering support to those living a street lifestyle was devised. Lorna Quail of Liverpool Streetscene Services Limited spoke to APSE Direct about this award-winning scheme.
In 2016 Liverpool City Centre was being affected by an increased number of people involved in
a street lifestyle. Begging, addiction, poverty and exploitation are just a few of the issues that were preventing Liverpool from reaching its full potential as a safer, cleaner and greener city. The accumulation of tents, bedding, cardboard, street living items, disguised used needles and drug using equipment posed a risk to the public and to street cleansing staff. Regular call outs for these areas meant regular interruptions to cleansing operations, which was becoming custom and practice and therefore absorbed into mainstream provision. This was affecting the cleansing programme by causing timescales to be missed, and time spent catching up with core services and expectations.
Incidences of anti-social behaviour such as aggression, drug taking and disposing of human waste openly in the city centre are common activities around these sites. Therefore quite understandably, staff became reticent about cleansing these hotspots. This further hindered cleansing programmes, having an impact on businesses, tourism, and generating media attention and complaints from the public.
In 2016 the estimate per month for cleansing interventions and call outs was approximately
£2,000 per month and £24,000 per annum.
The innovative approach taken
The issue needed to be tackled with a competent and robust approach to cleansing operations coordinated alongside a comprehensive engagement and enforcement process. A City Centre HIT (High Impact Team) called the ‘Site Enhancement Team’ was introduced, to provide an additional dedicated resource to focus primarily on tackling environmental blight at these specific areas. The team are highly trained, proficient, and have the transferable skills to deal with these specific problems sufficiently, ensuring that hotspots are cleansed in a safe manner.
The other objectives were to reduce begging and anti-social behaviour in the city and support vulnerable individuals through working with partners. Alongside the dedicated cleansing resource, a street lifestyle group was also formed with partner agencies Merseyside Police, Whitechapel and Addaction, to work closely with a cohort of rough sleepers every day. Whitechapel support individuals in accessing accommodation and Addaction provide specialist support to tackle addictions to improve the health and wellbeing of service users.
The balance of this support and intervention combined with enforcing the law when support and services have been offered and refused, has proved successful in reducing overall activity of this nature in Liverpool City Centre.
Partnership working has proved particularly successful in tackling street lifestyle problems. With the right people, tools, powers and, most importantly, the joined-up approach of all partners, the challenge of building relationships with vulnerable members of the public became less of a challenge and many users on the service cohort were able to build trust with the team and receive the support they needed.
The outcomes achieved
There has been a reduction of street lifestyle activity in Liverpool City Centre since the programme began. In 2016 there were 40 sites of concern, which has been reduced to 20 sites as of September 2019, halving the areas of concern.
The Site Enhancement Team is responsible for enhancing areas of environmental blight to aesthetically improve their appearance and minimise ongoing undesirable behaviour. They are returned to public use by installing lighting, fencing, plants and flowers, painting and removing graffiti, and of course carrying out a regular cleansing programme tailored for each site which includes removing materials dangerous to the public and ensuring that litter is recycled properly. Some sites are more difficult to improve and require constant and repetitive attention due to the nature of the problem. Persistence is key when working on these sites, as is an understanding for the people who congregate there, and patience when attempting to build a relationship with them in order to offer them support.
Going forward, the Council plan to expand this project outside of the city centre to widen and grow the impact of this innovative approach. There is even the opportunity to use the space at these sites to promote recycling and positive environmental campaigns. One suggestion to achieve this is by engaging with art students from local universities to create a programme wherein they would have a chance to create some environmental based art, in a voluntary or competition format, widening the diversity of partners engaged in this programme and giving students the opportunity to showcase their talent in the city.
The team will continue to map out new sites, provide a dedicated resource to tackle any problems at them, engage the people and signpost to partner agencies for support. Liverpool Streetscene Services Ltd’s vision is to work with local people and businesses to support those who are vulnerable and resolve local environmental problems.
This initiative won the APSE Innovation Award 2020 in Streetscene. This summary has been taken from the APSE Environmental Services Innovation Awards brochure. The brochure contains the summaries of every shortlisted submission in 2017, 2018 and 2019, and is free to download here.