Behind the Scenes Series: East Road

Here at Jimmy’s we really want to open the doors and welcome our supporters in to find out what goes on behind the scenes. As you can imagine, it wouldn’t be possible to physically invite everyone to our centres, so instead we are sitting down with some of our amazing staff to hear what actually happens at Jimmy’s; from the moment someone is referred to our assessment centre on East Road to a resident moving in to their own accommodation and lots that goes on in between.

In the first instalment of this series we sat down with Deb, our East Road manager. We asked her lots of questions we know people are often curious about. If there are more questions you would like answered please do get in touch at

Deb, the manager of Jimmy’s East Road hostel, has worked within Jimmy’s for 20 years. Starting as a bank worker, she has seen the centre evolve from a night shelter to the 24 hour centre, with 25 rooms, that it is today.

Here she shares what goes on behind the scenes.

Why do people come to East Road?

We are classed as emergency accommodation. We are the first port of call straight off the streets. If anyone finds themselves rough sleeping they would come here first before going onto secondary accommodation, whatever that might look like.

What is the process of getting in?

Most of the 25 beds are offered to people who are ‘verified’* rough sleeping by the Street Outreach Team**. The team engage with them whilst they are sleeping rough. Individuals are then added to a list which is reviewed regularly in the hope of housing them. People with a local connection and who are considered more vulnerable go towards the top of the list. This year we have also introduced 5 beds that people can self-refer into.

Does a local connection go over someone who was vulnerable?

Not always, no. If someone was particularly vulnerable it would take precedent over local connection.

In your experience what are the reasons a lot of people are rough sleeping?

There isn’t any one reason, everyone has a different reason for rough sleeping. It could be one or more of many things including relationship breakdown, not being able to afford rent, bad behaviour in another accommodation and substance abuse.

What are the misconceptions with people who are involved in substance abuse?

The biggest misconception is that people have chosen to use drugs and alcohol, but most often it is a coping mechanism. Ultimately a lot of people are covering up trauma, so use drugs as a way of hiding pain, whether physical, emotional, or mental. Some were also introduced at an age where they weren’t old enough to realise what they were doing.

Do you find many people sleeping rough are dealing with mental illness?

Yes, a huge amount are dealing with mental illness. The lack of resources to get the mental health support they need is a big issue, especially if they have no phone or postal address. Even when individuals can get access to support there is a high risk people will miss appointments which leads to them being signed off for non-engagement. What is misunderstood is that they are already leading very chaotic lives and don’t necessarily know what day it is, never mind have the ability to keep track of a date and time and get to their appointment.

What happens once people walk through the doors of Jimmy’s?

When people first walk in, they are offered a drink and some food. They will also be booked in by a Support Worker, where some brief paper work is filled out and they will told what is required of them during their stay.

What is required?

Generally it is sticking to the rules, i.e. attending meetings with key workers so we can support any issues they might have or sign posting to external services for support that might be more appropriate than we can offer. We’ll also help them look for more suitable permanent accommodation.

And then they are allocated a room?

They will be given a key to their room along with new toiletries, new bedding, and new towels. Rooms are single occupancy with an en suite bathroom. The rooms are furnished with a bedside table and wardrobe, so people feel more settled.

How long are people here?

We try and work to a 56 day (8 week) pathway, but it is very much dependent on what is available and what needs that person has. People could move on very quickly because they are engaging with our partners and on a waiting list for other accommodation, or we need to do more work and they could be here over a year.

Tell us about success stories, whatever that may mean?

Success means very different things to different people. Success for one person is that they use their bed every night, and for other people it is getting their own accommodation, getting a job and moving forward.  It’s what people would consider ‘normal’ to society but can be extraordinary to one of our residents.

Why is it successful for someone to use their bed each night?

Because we have some people who are very entrenched in their lifestyle and very used to sleeping out at night. It is very different to come into Jimmy’s as they have a level of chaos in their lives. To come back and use their bed every night is the start of them settling and moving forward in their lives.

Why would you choose to sleep on the street and not be in a warm place with food?

Some people are so used to being out, coming into four walls can be quite claustrophobic for them. For others it is because they have been so used to accessing substances whenever they need to, they are just used to being out all night doing whatever they need to get by.

Is there a curfew at East Road?

There is a loose curfew, we aim for a 12.30am, but quite often if people do need to go out, they are able to. Depending on that person’s behaviour and whether they will be quiet and not disturb other residents, they will either be let back in, or they will need to stay out until the morning between 6am and 7am.

Are people allowed to take drugs in East Road?

Illegal substances cannot be physically taken whilst in East Road. No alcohol can be brought inside the building either. Being on substances will not bar people from getting a bed though. We do very much encourage residents to engage with Change Grow Live (CGL), the drug and alcohol service in Cambridge, to try and help stabilise their drug and alcohol use. CGL offer a regular drop in service here at East Road for our residents. Our hope is that people choose to come off drugs completely further down the line, but that can only happen if that is what they want to work towards.

What do you think East Road gives to people who come in here?

I like to think safety and the support to look towards the future and what that might look like for them. There is also a bed and food and (non alcoholic) drink 24 hours a day. It is a place they can tend to their personal hygiene and be encouraged to get any physical health issues looked at.

Tell us one of the ways support workers help residents that we may not have heard about previously?

We offer something called room support. With permission, a support worker will go into a resident’s room with them and help them tidy it. For some people, it can be a very good way of assessing where their mental health is at. We have had a few people in where you can tell where they are emotionally and mentally judging by state of their rooms. When they are in a good place, their rooms are clean and tidy, no rubbish; they maintain the everyday upkeep of their personal space. But sometimes you will notice that starting to break down; the crockery isn’t coming back to the kitchen, bags of rubbish aren’t cleared. You know that something else is going on. You can then have that conversation of what it is that has gone wrong, it’s not about the room, it is a marker of what is going on in there.

What other ways might support workers help a resident?

It depends on what the resident needs, ringing up the Department of Work and Pensions, sorting benefit claims or sanctions, applying for grants so people can get ID or clothing and making doctors’ appointments with people.

With Christmas round the corner, many people are focused on their families, getting together and exchanging presents. This can however be a particularly isolating and lonely time for people experiencing homelessness.

Why do residents need Jimmy’s at Christmas?

Depending on their upbringing, some of the residents have never experienced a Christmas where they are given gifts or where they have been included. Being surrounded by Jimmy’s support at Christmas can be a way of helping people feel acknowledged, that they are human and worth something.

Do people not have families they can be with?

People might be away from their families for different reasons – sometimes they are embarrassed about how their lives have ended up or they might have exhausted the support their family and friends were able to give them. Some don’t have family. Jimmy’s can often become their family at that point.

Without Jimmy’s people would most likely feel isolated and alone. They may also put themselves in vulnerable positions so they are not on the streets at Christmas. This could include befriending people who aren’t necessarily safe for them or becoming victims of sexual abuse. Some end up in vulnerable situations which they would not necessarily do if they had somewhere safe to be.

A lot of people don’t want to be sleeping out at Christmas time because most people equate Christmas with family and being at home, and the comforts around them.

It highlights and reminds them of the disparity. It reminds them of everything they have lost.

Want to support the amazing work of Deb and the rest of the team at Jimmy’s? Donate here

* Verification can vary depending on location but ultimately means the Street Outreach team have confirmed an individual is rough sleeping with no where else to go. This confirmation may come about through conversations with the individual or from information shared by other professional partners such as the police, housing association etc.

**The Street Outreach team in Cambridge is run by Change Grow Live (CGL). The team go out everyday to see who is rough sleeping and offer any assistance available/wanted. If you see someone rough sleeping and want to notify the Street Outreach team you can contact them on 01223 366292 or share as much information as you can via this portal.

Deb – Team Leader at Jimmy’s.