The mental health experts helping rough sleepers at Peterborough Garden House


The Garden House welcomes rough sleepers for a coffee, advice and a chat.

As more organisations have started recognising what they can do within the community, a deeper focus on mental health has been acknowledged. 

Green Shoots Peterborough’s qualified counsellor Hal Palmer said that getting rehomed after time on the streets is a lot more than getting keys to your home.  

He said: “It’s a more holistic approach; mental health, financial struggles and lack of resources will all contribute. Rather than just giving someone the keys to a door, it’s vital for them to have someone to talk to and engage with. If someone is a rough sleeper or homeless they’ve probably been outside for a long time, and it takes time to adapt to living indoors again.” 

Approximately 80% of rough sleepers suffer with mental health problems or addictions, and often this arises as a result of becoming homeless. Thankfully, campaigns such as Safer off the Street Peterborough recognise this issue, and provide services which can help.

The SOS campaign, which was set up in October 2018, is a multi-agency partnership made up of voluntary, faith, community and public service organisations working together to end street homelessness in Peterborough. Donations go to The Garden House in Wheel Yard, one of the key places in the city where people can get back on their feet.  

As part of the Light Project Peterborough charity, the Garden House relies almost entirely on volunteers. Different professionals lend a helping hand inside, including a hairdresser, GP and a mental health expert who comes in daily to talk with anyone who needs a conversation - and it can often be a challenging environment. 

Light Project Peterborough project worker Lauren Salisbury said: “Of all the people who have visited us at the Garden House, we've rehomed so many. From the Winter Night Shelter, around 25 people who have come in over the past three months have ended up being rehomed. 

“We have people from the housing service at Peterborough City Council who talk with those who visit us. People who get a home don’t always stay in it, because there are deeper issues going on.  

“People who have had problems with alcohol can relapse, and if they do, it’s hard for them to hold down their home. We’ve had it before that people won’t drink for 40 days, but then they’ll relapse. It’s really sad to watch. You want to help people so badly, but sometimes they don’t want to help themselves.  

“It’s difficult because homelessness is far more than just ‘houselessness’. That’s why we have the mental health expert in daily. Sometimes there are other factors which keep people on the streets. We try to help people as much as we can, but there is only so much that you can do.”  

The Garden House works alongside the Winter Night Shelter, a project which opened in 2015 and has helped provide more than 200 people with a bed and a hot meal for the night in various locations across the city, during the coldest months of the year.

However following the work done in the city by volunteers, the government investment into Peterborough is expected to keep the Winter Night Shelter open all year round. The project, previously due to end in March 2020, will now be extended to remain open indefinitely.  

This funding will also pay for 12 additional crash beds for high to mid-risk rough sleepers, and it’ll allow for them to have a bed on a night-by-night basis.  

Councillor Steve Allen, Peterborough City Council cabinet member for communities, said: "We have worked hard to secure extra funding and are pleased that the government has recognised our bid. This extra funding will make a significant difference to positive work already underway with partners across the city, as part of the Safer Off the Streets partnership of which the council is a member.”