'First Response' Teams Are Getting On Their Bikes To Reach More Homeless People

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 17 months ago

Last Updated 07 February 2023

'First Response' Teams Are Getting On Their Bikes To Reach More Homeless People
Stuart on his bike
Stuart volunteers for St Mungo's, using his bike to reach more homeless people. Image: Londonist

Walking the icy streets of London this time of year, you wonder what's to become of the rough sleepers you spot huddled in doorways or on benches.

The first thing you should know is that you can report them to StreetLink, an online portal, where you can detail the person's description and location.

From here, homeless charities like St Mungo's step in; their army of first response volunteers check up on sightings of rough sleepers. If the reported person is still in that location, first responders pass this information onto outreach officers, who swiftly arrive on the scene, and begin assessing the rough sleeper for accommodation, health support and the like.

It's a vital role — and to date has helped over 800 people off the street — but doing it on foot means there's only so much ground you can cover in one shift.

Lately, though, St Mungo's has been trialling a different way of getting their first response volunteers in Tower Hamlets and Westminster out and about — by bike.

Homeless people in a subway in London
Westminster is the borough with the highest number of rough sleepers in London. Image: Shutterstock

"Westminster is such a huge borough," says Stuart, one of the charity's cycling volunteers, "It's not just the number of people you try and see but it's also the distances you have to cover, and if it's on foot, then you have to get the tube or the bus. But on a bike you can get around so quickly."

An IT technician by day, Stuart gives up his time to do one or two first response shifts a month, and because of his trusty two wheels, can reach around 25 locations reported on StreetLink per shift, rather than the 10 or so that can be achieved in the same time by foot.

"You have that big list at six o' clock, says Stuart, "and then by quarter past nine you find that you visited the majority of those sites, even if you might've only found two or three people.

"I've always been a cyclist. So it seems logical to do it on the bike," says Stuart, who used to live in Denmark, a country well-known for its appreciation of cycling.

Off the back of this success, St Mungo's is seeking more volunteers who want to hop on their bike, and help out Londoners in need.

If you're interested in volunteering for St Mungo's, visit the volunteering page of their website.