I have received a few thoughtful and personal messages from residents who are concerned about rough sleeping and homelessness.
I have set out some information below about what the government is doing and I am seeking to look at this locally on a multi-agency basis.
There should not be any people living on our streets. We all agree with this and it is also widely understood that for some, living rough is a complicated issue and providing a home will not necessarily solve all of their problems. However, I noted that during the election, if homelessness was raised, sweeping statements were often made about central government and there was a lot of confusion about what is really happening locally. The issue then descended into blame or arguments. This helps nobody.
I want to find solutions for people and I will work with others to do so. I will speak to local councils, charities, the police, councillors, the job centre and community groups to establish the best approach for our communities. I also want to understand whether the successful ‘Housing First’ policy may assist here and find out exactly what we need to be asking for from local and central government.
With the above in mind, it is worth noting that the government has announced funding of more than £260m to prevent people from falling into homelessness as part of a drive to support people at risk. The South West will receive £15.6m of this funding. The government’s Cold Weather Fund is also being extended by £3m.
A few notes about homelessness funding and work (not exhaustive and in no particular order):
• In December 2018, Gloucestershire County Council secured over £950k of government funding as part of the government’s £100m Rough Sleeping Strategy. Gloucestershire is one of 11 areas providing Somewhere Safe to Stay centres across the country. The money also funds a navigator service to work with rough sleepers and alongside the hubs.
• The county’s homeless hubs located in Central Gloucester and Central Cheltenham are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide a safe environment away from the street. On arrival to the hub, staff will provide a ‘sit up’ service to rapidly assess a person’s needs and design a personal housing plan to make sure that there is no reason for them to stay sleeping rough.
• There is a £100 million Rough Sleeping Strategy aims to end rough sleeping completely by 2027 by offering rapid and specialist support to help people to find a new home quickly and rebuild their lives. The cross-Government Strategy was developed with homelessness charities and experts. It was set up to provide timely support to those at risk of rough sleeping, intervening to help people already on the streets get the support they need, and helping people recover and rebuild their lives.
• Rough sleeping fell for the first time this decade – but there is still much more to do. In February 2019, the number of vulnerable people sleeping on our streets fell for the first time since 2010. The sad reality is that many places across the world has seen an increase in rough sleeping and homelessness.
• The Rough Sleeping Initiative cut rough sleeping in the worst affected areas. This programme is providing £76 million for 246 areas across the country – providing 2,600 beds and 750 staff – and has reduced the number of vulnerable people sleeping rough in these areas by 32 per cent.
• There are three innovative ‘Housing First’ pilots, a proven approach, with £28 million to help people off the streets and back on their feet. I attended the launch of the report about this scheme with the Centre for Social Justice. These pilots, in Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands, will provide 1,000 people with stable, affordable accommodation and help them recover from complex health issues, such as substance abuse and mental health difficulties.
• A popular piece of legislation that received cross party support was the Homelessness Reduction Act, originally from Conservative Bob Blackman MP. This makes it a duty for councils to prevent and relieve homelessness. For the first time local authorities, public services and the third sector will work together to actively prevent homelessness for people at risk, irrespective of whether they are a family or single person, what has put them at risk or if they have a local connection to the area.
• Backing local authorities to fulfil their obligation to relieve homelessness with £72.7 million. We are providing funding to local authorities to meet the new burdens costs associated with the additional duties contained within the Act over the course of the Spending Review.
I hope the above is a useful look at some of the work that is already underway and policy areas that we can consider locally. The Minister in charge is the MP for Thornbury and Yate - the Rt Hon Luke Hall MP. I know Luke well and I am therefore pleased that I can easily speak to him about Stroud and Gloucestershire in full knowledge that he understands our specific needs.
With kind regards