Ben’s Centre goes the extra mile to help street drinkers

Bens Centre, Sue Smith with some of the clothes donated to the charity
Bens Centre, Sue Smith with some of the clothes donated to the charity
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It is 11am and a man wearing torn tracksuit bottoms over a pair of jeans is passed out on some steps in Sheffield city centre.

He is gently shaken awake by Daryl Bishop, an outreach coordinator for street drinking charity Ben’s Centre.

Bens Centre, outreach worker Daryl Bishop

Bens Centre, outreach worker Daryl Bishop

He knows the man’s name and greets him before offering him a cup of hot chocolate, which is accepted. They talk about how the man is waiting for a council house.

“They said I can get the keys on Friday,” the man says.

Walking away, Daryl, aged 38, says: “I don’t know if that’s true or not. It could be or it could be just to get me off his back and stop me asking too many questions.

“He never used to accept any help at all, it’s taken me ages just to get him to take a cup of coffee.”

Bens Centre, the bag which outreach worker Daryl Bishop takes out on the streets

Bens Centre, the bag which outreach worker Daryl Bishop takes out on the streets

Ben’s Centre is a charity set up 19 years ago to offer a drop-in centre for street drinkers, many of whom are homeless. The Centre was forced to find new premises when their base on Orange Street, off West Street, which they had occupied for eight years, got planning permission to be turned into student flats.

It left the charity itself temporarily homeless while they tried to find a new base.

This led to an increase in their outreach work, bringing help straight to the streets for those who need it.

The charity’s new home is tucked down North Church Street behind the cathedral – but outreach workers and volunteers continue to walk the streets of the city, offering help where they can and encouraging people to come into the facility.

Daryl goes out twice a day, four times a week. He walks miles in rain and shine giving out drinks, food, toothbrushes, sleeping bags and raincoats. The list is endless.

He says: “One day we might check out an area we’ve heard people are in and introduce ourselves. Or just go out and chat to people and see if they need anything.

“There’s so many different arms to it.”

Daryl’s usual route takes him past the train station, where he has a good relationship with the British Transport Police. He and the officers reel off a list of people they regularly come into contact with – and discuss the ‘underbelly’ of homelessness, including suspected exploitation and drug-taking.

“We’ve had wind of sexual exploitation but drinks and drugs is common. People begging in return for a share in other people’s drugs. It can be quite serious.”

He says heroin is having a resurgence and legal highs are ‘just the worst thing in the whole world at the moment’.

Daryl says: “Instead of arresting these people, the British Transport Police often ring us or bring them to us and we get some idea of numbers. The train station is a bit of a hot spot.

“We do work hand in hand, and there are certain movements with the police that are really helping, but at the end of the day we do have different goals.

“They want a safer, more welcoming city – and we want to change people’s mindset toward rough sleepers. It’s not our place to judge – they are just surviving.”

British Transport PCSO Tony Bilinski says: “It’s been a bit of an eye-opener meeting Daryl and his team. It’s good to know we can take people to him if we need to. People are not quite as alone as they think they are.”

He says beggars aren’t usually moved on unless there has been a complaint.

For Daryl, the hardest part of his work is just to get people through the doors of the centre.

He says: “Many people won’t come inside the centre, they think it is going to be preachy. You can spend hours working in here but you have to go out there, it is like saying, ‘I’m with you.’

“They don’t really open up about things because they don’t know you.”

It is also a constant battle to get volunteers to help with the outreach work.

Daryl says: “People think it is going to be standing behind a counter doling out food, but you don’t, you walk miles and miles sometimes.

“It is also more intimate than a soup kitchen, you build up a relationship and that’s what we want. Often people just want somebody to talk to.”

n If you are interested in volunteering, call Ben’s Centre on 0114 2799961.