START Homeless Outreach Team supporting the mental health of rough sleepers | Press releases

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START Homeless Outreach Team supporting the mental health of rough sleepers

staff sitting and having a tea

A team providing mental health support to street homeless people has explained how they support people during the cold winter months and how members of the public can help.

The START Homeless Outreach Team at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust is a multidisciplinary team delivering integrated care to street homeless people using an outreach method. This means their focus is on building relationships with people who often fall through the gaps of services.

Fran Busby, Clinical Service Lead of START said:

“We make contact, introduce ourselves and focus on what people need there and then. That might be a sleeping bag, a hot chocolate, something to eat. We build a picture of what’s going on for that person and what their needs are, that’s where we start.

“We’re somebody that they can rely on. Often people are really isolated, and when they're homeless they've lost touch with friends and family, I'd like to think we become part of their support network. Somebody that they can trust.”

One service user said: “I don’t know what would have happened if START hadn’t supported me. I might be dead without START, so they have saved me.”

The service receives referrals from street outreach services, day centres, homeless GP surgeries.

Harriet Neuberger, Social Worker and Team Leader said:

“We will accept a referral from anywhere if someone is rough sleeping and suspected to have significant mental health problems.”

The service has a duty line (020 3228 5911) which is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

People sleeping on the streets face extreme danger as temperatures drop. In December 2022 Mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn activated the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP). This means councils have opened emergency provisions to make sure people can be brought off the streets into somewhere warm.

Jenny Drife, Consultant Psychiatrist in the START team, said:

“It's difficult to be homeless all through the year. It's not something that's just a difficulty in winter. It's very difficult in summer and especially in recent years when it's been so hot that can be just as challenging.

“The temperature has dropped to minus three degrees this December and sleeping out in those conditions is horrible and it's life threatening. People might die.”

Fran added:

“Every year as it gets colder, I just feel that sense of how awful it is to be out and how dangerous it is. People still die in severe weather. If you see someone sleeping out then please refer them to StreetLink.”

StreetLink is an app and helpline that connects people rough sleeping with local services that can support them. 

While the service supports the mental health needs of rough sleepers, the team is also in need of donations to better engage and contact service users.

Harriet said:

“When we go out and engage with people, building up relationships is a very crucial and rewarding part of our job. Having ways of contacting people is important so we often need practical things like phones.”

A service user said: “Regular text messages really support me. It’s nice to receive encouraging words each day.”

Fran said:

“Our service users like many people are struggling with the cost of living. If there's anything that people have that's unwanted, we do really have use for warm winter clothing, sleeping bags, practical things like books to read and toiletry packs.”

To support the START Homeless Outreach Team please contact Fran Busby ( for more information.

Watch Meet the START Team