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Routes to Roots, Poole

Routes to Roots is Christian Action on Homelessness of Christians of all denominations working together to help meet the needs of homeless and rootless people in Poole, Dorset. It provides services to adults sleeping rough who are aimless, demotivated and lonely, and also those who are at risk of homelessness.


Routes to Roots became a registered charity in 2002, but Christian action on homelessness in Poole really began long before that. The formal action began with one church in Poole, the ‘Vineyard’, which had the vision to meet the needs of homeless people where they are, on the streets. They set up the first soup kitchen in Vanguard Street, which is under the flyover bridge and near the train station. Gradually other churches became inspired to do the same, until eventually every night of the week members of churches from all over Poole were providing hot drinks, soup, rolls, and perhaps most important of all, a listening ear.

In 2000, we began to look for somewhere that we could invite the homeless into, to have a little bit of respite from their chaotic lives on the street and a place where we could begin to meet some of their most basic needs. Thanks to Hill Street Baptist Church and, later, Skinner Street United Reformed Church who offered their premises for our drops-ins, we became able to do just that. As we sat and talked with them and listened to their stories, they were no longer strangers to us.

As we began to do more for the homeless we began to understand what their needs were and how much more we needed to do in order to meet those needs. Realising that we would need to raise money in order to meet these needs, we became a registered charity in 2002.

As an organisation, we were frustrated that there was no continuity work with the rough sleepers between the drop-in sessions. In 2003, with the support of the Poole Drug Action Team, we were able to employ a part-time Outreach Worker to work with the rough sleepers. This first Outreach Worker collected statistics for the Drug Outreach Team and signposted the Rough Sleepers to the relevant agencies that they needed to engage with. This work proved successful and by 2005 we were able to raise the funds to employ a full-time Outreach Worker. This allowed us to develop a more proactive and assertive outreach role. Since then, our work has evolved around continuing to meet the needs of the rough sleepers as we become aware of them.

Routes to Roots aims

· To encourage participation rather than dependency,
· To provide a place of security and warmth, where there is immediate social and spiritual support as well as the basic necessities for life; food, clothing, a place to wash and a place to rest,
· To provide opportunities that inspire creativity and alleviates boredom,
· To rebuild self worth and self confidence,
· To find homes for the homeless and to help maintain our clients in them
· To inspire, encourage and equip the people of Poole to respond to the needs of homeless people with compassion, in ways that are creative and liberating.

The main areas of Routes to Roots work are focused on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow: 1954) in levels one and two: (1) Physiological: sleep, food, water, breathing, excretion, sex, and (2) Safety: security of body, employment, the family, morality, health, and property.

Routes to Roots activities

In 2007, Routes to Roots began employing a part-time administrator to support the Trustee Executive Committee and the Outreach Worker in implementing our vision. At the same time, Routes to Roots recognised the importance of follow-up with rough sleepers after they are housed. This led to two developments:

ð In 2008, we formed a partnership with Quaker Homeless Action to develop a Befriending Teams Pilot Project designed to assist those who are placed in accommodation to remain in their tenancy. This was launched on Homelessness Sunday 2009 and includes eighteen trained volunteers working in six teams with six former rough sleepers. The pilot project will conclude in February 2011 after which the results will be available nationally to other groups.
ð In 2009, we formed a partnership with Bournemouth Churches Housing Association to provide a Poole Outreach and Support Team. In practice, Routes to Roots now employs a full-time Outreach Worker as well as a full time Support Manager, who directly supports those who have been housed or who are at risk of homelessness and provides a very personalised service that identifies what each person needs to accomplish to move forward and to maintain their housing and independent living.

We have come a long way since that first soup run provided by the Vineyard Church, but we do not forget our roots are in the one true Vine, whose compassionate love for the poor, is our inspiration. Our core activities are:

ð Outreach: Routes to Routes delivers an assertive street outreach service to individuals sleeping rough in the Borough of Poole as part of the Poole Outreach Support Team. This work is in partnership with Bournemouth Churches Housing Association (BCHA). The purpose of this work is to reduce the number of people rough sleeping and to work with partner agencies to provide sustainable housing and support packages for rough sleepers. Specifically, the Outreach Workers support clients on a one-to-one basis by assisting them in resolving the problems that are keeping them on the streets. This work includes agreeing goals and objectives to work toward, helping clients identify appropriate accommodation, assisting them in moving in, and liaising with the BCHA Training Department and other agencies to promote independent living skills. The Outreach Workers can offer up to four weeks support work with clients after they are housed.

ð Prevention and Social Inclusion Work: We work with those who are currently housed to help minimize the risk of repeated homelessness. The Support Manager

· seeks out and gives support to those who are in danger of losing their tenancies through whatever means, such as non-payment of top-up fees, etc.
· encourages and works with clients who are struggling with addictions, so that they do not lose their housing.
· works with those who might choose to give up their housing because of their isolation and loneliness by encouraging their social participation.

There are also projects that support the core work

ð Twice Weekly Evening Drop-In Sessions run by volunteers provide a safe environment for people to meet and talk. This is an important time for Routes to Roots volunteers to listen to those who attend, which allows everyone to build trusting relationships.. A hot meal and hot and cold drinks are provided at each session. An Outreach Worker is available to provide signposting or to set up meetings. A volunteer chiropodist provides care at the Friday drop ins. The drop-ins usually attract between 14 to 30 people. The Tuesday evening drop-in is at the Hill Street Baptist Church and the Friday evening drop in is at the Skinner Street United Reformed Church.

ð Twice Weekly Afternoon Motivational Drop-In Sessions run by volunteers provide an environment for creative projects, guidance, and support. Their aim is to help the participants move back into ‘normal’ society that would include housing and independent living. A sandwich lunch and hot and cold drinks are provided at each session. The Support Manager is available to meet with the participants and arrange further support. As funding has been available, various activities have been offered, such as cooking, pottery, sewing, papier mâché, painting, and sports. These activities have had real value and Routes to Roots would like to develop this work further.

ð Brownsea Island Conservation Project is run in partnership with Dorset Wildlife Trust for one day each week for six weeks annually. It involves at least six clients and two volunteers working together to clear shrubs on the island. This project provides the clients with practical experience and something that they can put on their CV.

ð Befriending Teams Project is designed to assist those placed in accommodation to remain in their tenancy by giving them individual befriending support to become more rooted in the local community.


As a registered charity, Routes to Roots is managed by a small Board of Trustees, who have provided the main leadership. The work of Routes to Routes is carried out by the Executive Committee, which is made up of the Trustees, plus two others. The Executive Committee meets monthly and Routes to Roots holds an Annual General Meeting.


When we began with the soup runs on the street we only needed volunteers and donated food or money to supply the soup and rolls, etc. As we evolved we needed to find premises to hold our drop-ins and more funding to pay for the hire of the church halls. Employing a full-time worker entailed both raising more funding and hiring office space.

In 2007, Routes to Roots identified that its current premises and facilities are not sufficient to fulfil its current work or future plans. In 2009-2010, we completed a feasibility study which ruled out one potential building but clarified more specifically what is needed. The building needs to:

· be in Poole Town centre;
· have room for at least two showers and three toilets;
· have kitchen facilities with an eating area for at least twenty people;
· the building needs to have room for clothes washing facilities,
· have storage area for donated item, such as clothing, bedding, and furniture; and
· have room for office and meeting space for Routes to Roots employees.

To raise money for the above, we have set aside some of our money to begin a building fund. We currently have £17,500 in the fund. We also need funding for two more paid employees: a General Manager and a Support Worker. To date, our funding has come from a combination of grant aid, including £5,000 from the Community Fund, donations, church giving and contracts. In 2009/10, the local ASDA store offered to make Routes to Roots one of their charities and to work with us on fund raising. Friends and supporters have raised money through concerts, cleaning cars, sleeping out and many other activities.


In order to provide more motivational activities in our day time drop-ins, we need volunteers who have specific skills. To continue our befriending work, we need volunteer ‘befrienders’. Their contribution (calculated on the basis on the minimum wage amounts to about £600 a week.


I think we have been successful because once there was no provision for homeless people at all. But nowadays there is food, friendship and support provided through the soup runs and drop-ins 7 days a week which alleviate some of the isolation and boredom which many of our clients experience and our befriending project helps to break the cycle of homelessness. The Outreach Team has gained national acclaim for its good practice and the number of clients who have been helped into accommodation and also received help to get their benefits and medical attention including help and advice on their addictions.

We have highlighted the needs of homeless people in Poole by the talks we have given to churches, schools and other groups and we have also enabled a lot of people to engage in voluntary work in the community. (It would be good to have further recognition of, and publicity about, our work in the Diocese.)

For Poole Borough Council, success seems to be measured by the number of clients they get off the street and into accommodation. Their aim is to have zero rough sleepers in Poole. We don’t think that will ever happen. Jesus said, you will always have the poor with you. Of course getting people into housing is our aim too and our Outreach workers have had considerable success in doing that. However, I think for me success is being able to say that amongst the homeless in Poole:

‘The hungry are being fed,
The thirsty are being given something to drink
The naked are clothed
The sick and imprisoned are visited
and the stranger is invited in, to sit and eat with us.

This is only possible because we have a small army of volunteers.

Success factors

The main success factors have probably been:

· sticking to our original aim and mission.
· the dedication of the people involved.
· recognising each of our clients as a valued individual with his or her own particular needs.
· the emphasis on preventative work to avoid people becoming homeless in the first place or slipping back into homelessness.


· Lack of resources especially premises.

· Not having a paid manager .We have many volunteers who are very committed but most of them including myself wear other hats and, although we are passionate about the work we do, we don’t always have the relevant skills required for this work. For example, I am a not a good manager but I have to manage a lot of what happens in R2R because there is no one else to do it.

· Although working in partnership with BCHA has proved to be very successful in the number of people being housed, the model of Outreach we have to use is very much dictated by Poole Borough Council and restricts us from doing Outreach in the way we would like to. The amount of paper work involved restricts the time spent with clients. Having funding from the council and working with a secular organisation can be challenging.

Challenges and opportunities

The challenge is to acquire funding to employ someone to get the grips not only with the day to day management of R2R, but enable us to realise our dreams for the future and to employ a Christian support worker to fill the gaps in provision in the council-funded Outreach work. Our current aim is also to do provide more follow-up support Although it is important to keep people in accommodation once they have been housed, there never seems to be enough support for them.

Revd Pat Southgate
Chair of Routes to Roots