Homelessness and Rough Sleepers

What are we doing to help rough sleepers and the homeless? I get asked this often, and I hope you’ve seen some of the many articles I’ve written on this already.

Since 2010 the government has helped local authorities prevent more than a million households from becoming homeless by investing £500 million to prevent, relieve and reduce homelessness, including £20 million to help local authorities develop new approaches to prevent homelessness.

Central government funding for homelessness programmes is also increasing to £139 million over the next four years, and a new £10 million Social Impact Bond should support the most entrenched rough sleepers.

This will build on the success of the No Second Night Out initiative, which meant over two-thirds of rough sleepers in 20 key areas outside London did not spend a second night out on the street. The government also announced it would invest £100 million to deliver low-cost ‘second stage’ accommodation.

So there is a lot of taxpayer money being put into solving this, and the Homelessness Reduction Bill going through Parliament, which looks at Council obligations, should help too.

In Gloucester, I’ve been a strong supporter of the George Whitfield Centre which I helped to officially open before Christmas. This offers some of the best joined up services in the country, with the City Mission, Foodbank, NHS Homelessness Team, and GreenSquare debt advice. They offer some transitional bed help to those sleeping rough when it’s very cold too.

I’ve had meetings with the City and County council homeless and prevention teams to support them and understand the issues they face. The closure of a shelter somewhere else can mean an increase in rough sleepers in Gloucester: we are often dealing with problems that started elsewhere. The City Council has recently been successful in bidding for more funds to help long-term rough sleepers, and they focus on a ‘housing first’ scheme.

So we’re working on this but I don’t think society has all the answers, because every case is different and there is not just one single problem to solve – but a great variety of humankind’s capacity for getting into trouble. It can happen to any of us, and strong and resilient families who help each other when in trouble are probably the best source of avoiding rough sleeping.

It is also true that not every rough sleeper is homeless and not all of either always want to engage and come off the street. Some reject housing options available to them.

On a related note I jointly chaired a Select Committee in Parliament on Supported Housing which helps those who aren’t ready to go into privately rented accommodation yet (including rough sleepers).

Meanwhile if you want to help then please do let our services know of any rough sleepers you come across so they can start engaging and offering them services via Street Link: http://www.streetlink.org.uk/. The Council can’t help those who they don’t know about and need our help to find them all.

What is the balance between Compassion and Regeneration?

Richard with Sgt Matt Puttock and city centre based officers

Richard with Sgt Matt Puttock and city centre based officers

Some residents and retailers have written to me about an increase in beggars and apparently homeless people sleeping in the city centre.

They rightly point out that this puts off visitors, discourages investors and gives the wrong image of a city that should be known for its friendliness, heritage and good shopping. Of course this also doesn’t help the good work being done to regenerate our city centre, whether through Heritage Lottery Fund awards or government and City Council grants to improve streets like Southgate Street: or help to encourage over 5 million visitors a year to the successful Docks and Quays to walk up to the city centre as well. So what are we doing about this?

I’ve had meetings with the Police, the City Council and St Mungo’s. We all agree more needs to be done to make sure that rough sleepers are returned safely into the communities they come from (often not Gloucester), and that beggars are off the street so that no one is put off coming to the city centre. Part of this is about a more visible police presence in the city centre and I am pleased that Supt Richard Cooper has brought back a team of officers, based in Bearlands, to patrol the city centre more often.

Alongside this we have increased the breadth of compassionate help available for people in trouble. The appropriately named George Whitfield Centre (formerly the Railway Club) now houses a Glos Care Services unit for the Homeless, the Foodbank, the Gloucester City Mission and a Green Square debt advisor. To have these services all together under one roof, opposite the Hospital, is among the most joined up operations in the country.

I am determined that Gloucester be a city of compassion for those who need help: but that we do not become the destination of choice for rough sleepers and beggars in Gloucestershire, let alone further afield.

I believe that having the Police back in the city centre and patrolling more often, ready to use their enforcement powers if need be, alongside the services in the Whitfield Centre, is the right balance of tough love: and I hope you will continue to see the improvement that we all want in the centre of our city.

Have we got the balance right? Let me know how you feel about our approach to rough sleepers and beggars at richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk.