Liverpool City Council has run a dropin service for street drinkers over recent summers, providing substance misuse help alongside other support, such as mental health care and housing support.
The National Consortium of Police and Crime Commissioners describes street drinking as a “continuing cause for concern” in many parts of the country.
The effects can be costly in different ways. It causes distress to members of the public, is bad for business and a drain on public services.
Street drinkers are often vulnerable people who need a range of support from substance misuse to mental health care.
Tackling high impact drinkers like these has been identified as one of three priority areas for public health across Cheshire and Merseyside.
Liverpool’s Citysafe Partnership launched the Rehabilitation, Education, Support and Treatment (REST) centre in 2015 and since then it has been run every summer from June to September seven-days a week.
It is effectively a safe space for street drinkers and has been delivered by the Whitechapel Centre, one of the leading homeless charities in the city.
The service provides homeless people with a safe and secure environment in which they can drink, but also be provided with support at the same time.
Staff decant alcohol into plastic containers and then intersperse the alcohol with soft drinks, tea and food with the aim of reducing alcohol intake.
Food and drink are provided as well as a range of internal services such as housing and welfare rights advice, education and training, employment advice, volunteering opportunities and medical services from a GP.
Meanwhile, Addaction has provided substance use harm reduction advice and referrals on to mainstream substance misuse service – many of the clients have drug problems alongside their drinking.
Providing mental health support has also been crucial. A psychologist from Mersey Care NHS Trust held clinics one day a week, providing support and referrals to community mental health services where necessary.
For those facing an immediate crisis staff and volunteers at the centre have also accompanied clients to the local crisis team at the Royal Liverpool Hospital.
A number of on-site activities have also been made available to provide service users with something fun to engage with, to help build their skills and to act at as a diversionary activity from consuming alcohol.
Activities have included holistic therapies, a film night, a library, board games, photography, creative writing, sport, bingo, and arts and crafts.
Charlotte Joyce, from the Whitechapel Centre, which oversaw the REST centre, said: “In terms of mental health support, it was threepronged.
Having the activities is every bit as important as the other two. These people are really vulnerable and it is essential you join up with partners to provide that all-round care.”
Liverpool John Moores University evaluated the programme in each of its first two years.
In the first year it helped 386 street drinkers and while that dropped in the second year, the evaluation said there were signs it was better targeted as users were more engaged with the services and support on offer.
It noted there were improvements in issues around housing, healthcare, wellbeing and alcohol use – in fact in year two half of the days people attended they did not consume any alcohol on site.
Data from Merseyside Police also showed a reduction in anti-social behaviour policerelated calls near the REST Centre. The evaluation concluded the service had saved £4.80 in societal costs for every £1 invested.
The case of 41-year-old Andrew (not his real name) is typical of the impact the project had.
He attended REST nearly every day during the summer of 2016 and was given help maximising benefits and was seen by the GP service and Addaction staff.
By the end he had found stable accommodation and was accessing detox services.
Jenny Ewels, Head of Safer and Stronger Communities at Liverpool City Council, said: “The great thing is that the centre allowed staff time to build trust with these clients by doing other activities, such as playing a game. That is so important and in the end allows them to make a difference to the lives of street drinkers.”
It took a number of years to get the project up-and-running. One of the problems was finding a suitable site and getting planning agreement.
Ms Ewels said: “Something like this is always going to be controversial and people did make objections initially. It is very important to consult closely with the local community. In the end we did some small-scale pilots and held one-to-one conversations with local businesses and held small community meetings.
“We found when we explained the concept people were supportive of it, they just didn’t like the idea of it being local to them. By pointing to the pilots and making assurances that there would be a staggered closing and a police presence to ensure drinking did not just spill over on to the street we finally got it through. “For something like this you have to work with the local community.”
How the approach is being sustained
A decision has not been taken over whether to run the REST centre again this summer. That is because the council has developed new services since the REST Centre was established. “We have been really pleased with what REST achieved,” said Ms Ewels. “The evaluation proved it was effective, but we continually review our services to make sure we are providing the right services to meet current needs.”
ead of Safer and Stronger Communities Liverpool City Council firstname.lastname@example.org