Streetbite Sleepout

HATTI WHITMAN meditates on Cambridge’s homelessness problem, as the charity Streetbite prepares for its annual sleep out this Saturday.

Big Issue Seller Cambridge CRI Homelessness Homelessness Charity Rachel Everitt Shelter Sleep Out Streetbite

For some Cambridge students the looming spectre of education cuts has taken a backseat to the far more tangible problem of homelessness in winter. Streetbite, a student organisation specifically targeted at helping the homeless in Cambridge, will hold their second annual Sleep Out on Parker’s Piece on Saturday 27th November, raising money and awareness for seven of Cambridge’s many homeless charities.

Having no experience whatsoever of homelessness in Cambridge beyond a jokey exchange every so often with one of the many Big Issue sellers scattered throughout the city centre, I went along to a Streetbite-sponsored talk to see why homelessness is such a problem here.


Speaking was Rachel Everitt, project manager for CRI Cambridge Street Outreach Team. Rachel is clearly not a woman to be messed with, but she’s also extremely passionate about the work that her charity does in Cambridge. The Cambridge team are part of the larger charity Crime Reduction Initiatives, and they work in cooperation with the city council to tackle homelessness and the issues surrounding it. Their main target areas are rough sleeping, substance abuse and sex working, but there’s also a strong focus on mental health and on rehabilitating criminals.

Rachel’s team reckon that 75% of the homeless people in Cambridge have arrived here from elsewhere, and in many cases it’s because they’re on the run. Unlike some of the homeless charities in Cambridge, the Street Outreach Team work in cooperation with the police. “We have to consider criminal issues as part of an individual’s support plan” Rachel says, “otherwise the whole thing becomes meaningless.” The process of resettling somebody who has been sleeping rough cannot begin if they have a criminal record, and the fact that CRI have access to the national police database means that the Street Outreach Team can find out quickly if this is the case – and do something about it.

Rachel’s team reckon that 75% of the homeless people in Cambridge have arrived here from elsewhere

It isn’t always the case that people want to be resettled. The homeless community in Cambridge are generally very tight-knit, and any disruption to that community can prove problematic. Homelessness is usually only one symptom of a multitude of other issues – be they financial, familial, health or substance related, so the Street Outreach Team do their best to try and tackle these issues for people both as individuals and in groups. In Rachel’s experience, groups with shared dependency issues form very strong bonds which make it very difficult to address the issues of individuals separately. In these cases as in any other, the Street Outreach Team can only offer as much support as people are willing to ask for.

Even as Cambridge City Council reports a downward trend in the number of homeless in Cambridge, it remains the case that between April 2009 and April 2010 Cambridge Street Outreach worked with 616 individuals, including 254 rough sleepers. Just because rough sleeping is less visible in Cambridge than it was ten years ago doesn’t mean the problem is gone. In fact, Rachel says “sleeping sites have become much more hidden over the last ten years, they haven’t disappeared.”

Between April 2009 and April 2010 Cambridge Street Outreach worked with 616 individuals, including 254 rough sleepers

Image: Jimmy’s Night Shelter

As well as becoming more hidden, there’s also a worrying trend in the age range of Cambridge’s rough sleepers. “Ten years ago there was no one younger than twenty-five, no one older than forty,” Rachel says, “but now we see kids as young as sixteen, seventeen out on the street, as well as people who are over seventy, which if you ask me is just wrong.”

As homelessness diversifies, it becomes harder for Cambridge Street Outreach to stretch their limited resources to cover everybody’s needs: funding is one of the key issues facing Cambridge Street Outreach, and the city’s other homeless charities. It puts the furore over education cuts into sharp perspective when you consider that this year Cambridge Street Outreach’s budget will be reduced by £100,000. Rachel’s positivity in the face of such a stark financial situation is inspiring: “There’s always a way, always a positive” she smiles, although she does concede that she isn’t certain she’ll be saying the same this time next year. What a reduction in funding will mean, she says, is that the various charities have to pool resources and work together to an even greater degree – “which can only be a good thing.”

One thing which all these charities already have in common is the dedication of those who work for them; but they can’t get by on this alone. Efforts such as the Streetbite Sleep Out are doubly important therefore, raising not only vital funds but also awareness of the work done by charities for the homeless in Cambridge. One night out in the cold probably won’t mean life or death for you or me, but it could for someone who has to sleep rough on a daily basis. By showing our support next Saturday we can help make a real difference to the lives of homeless people in Cambridge.

To sign up for the Streetbite Sleep Out visit

For more information or to volunteer with the CRI Cambridge Street Outreach Team visit or call 01223366292