Drive to stop rough sleeping needs to be quicker, charity bosses say

A rough sleeper in a Norwich shop doorway. Picture: Archant

A rough sleeper in a Norwich shop doorway. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

A Norwich charity has welcomed a £100m drive to cut rough sleeping, but said the government's goal to get people completely off the streets by 2027 is not ambitious enough.

Dr Jan Sheldon, chief executive of St Martins Housing Trust. Picture: St Martins

Dr Jan Sheldon, chief executive of St Martins Housing Trust. Picture: St Martins - Credit: Archant

The government yesterday unveiled a new strategy, with a vow to end rough sleeping in just under a decade, but bosses at St Martins Housing Trust said more needs to be done - and more rapidly.

It says its new strategy will turn people's lives around, against a backdrop of a rise in homelessness.

But Dr Jan Sheldon, chief executive of the St Martins Housing Trust, which is leading the newly launched Pathways project in Norwich to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness, said: 'Whilst we welcome the new strategy we do not think the timescales are acceptable.

'The initiative is seeking to end rough sleeping by 2027; that's almost a decade away. More needs to be done quickly to address key issues such as the lack of affordable housing and rent.'

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis. Pic: Yui Mok/PA Images.

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis. Pic: Yui Mok/PA Images. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

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She added: 'The principles of the strategy - prevention, intervention and recovery - have been key to our work at St Martins for a number of years; they also underpin our 2019-2021 strategic plan which we are currently consulting on.'

Prime minister Theresa May said she recognised rough sleeping was a complex issue and underlying problems needed to be tackled.

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The strategy focuses on preventing people ending up on the streets, support for those already sleeping rough and help in finding people new homes.

But it is not yet clear how much of the £100m will come to Norfolk.

Norwich City Council did get just under £260,000 from the government's £30m Rough Sleeping Initiative Fund earlier this year, along with just under £150,000 from the Flexible Homelessness Support Grant pot.

The government's strategy includes £30m for mental health support for rough sleepers, while a new network of specialist 'navigators' will help rough sleepers access services and accommodation.

There will be training for frontline staff on how to help people under the influence of artificial cannabinoid Spice.

A further £45m will also go into the Rough Sleeping Initiative next year, as the Conservative government looks to deliver on its manifesto commitment to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminate it by 2027.

Chloe Smith, Conservative Norwich North MP said: 'This is the right thing to do, and is very important for Norwich. The government has already given the city over £400,000 to help rough sleepers and to use strategically to prevent homelessness.

'The new Pathways project is part of this, for example. So, the government's commitment to reducing rough sleeping is quite right and is already under way in Norwich to help where it's needed most.'

But housing secretary James Brokenshire admitted, during questioning on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, that there is no new money behind the drive, with half the cash already committed to rough sleeping and the other half 'reprioritised' from existing budgets in his department.

Clive Lewis, Labour Norwich South MP, said: 'While anything extra is welcome - and it's questionable just how much of this is new - what I want to see is a u-turn on austerity. We need a radical rethink of how our economy works and who it works for.

He said pressure on the NHS, less money for mental health services, failings with a privatised probation service and a lack of housing had all contributed to the rise in homelessness.

And he said: 'I am seeing more people at my surgery who are coming to me, on the brink of homelessness. People saying that they never thought they'd be in that position.

'It's vital that we build more affordable housing. Councils want to do it, so why not let them borrow against their existing housing stock and do it.'

Kevin Maguire, Norwich City Council's cabinet member with responsibility for rough sleeping, said: 'While we welcome rough sleeping being acknowledged as a national priority requiring a multi-pronged approach, it is unclear at this stage what this announcement will mean in practice.

'Rough sleeping is a complex problem seen all over the country, exacerbated by a shortage of affordable housing and cuts to spending on health and support services which also needs to be addressed.'

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