Norwich charity welcomes £100m drive to end rough sleeping by 2027 - but says it does not go far enough
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.
The government today 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.
The Conservatives say the new strategy will help turn people’s lives around, against a backdrop of a rise in homelessness over the past seven years.
In an attempt to tackle the issue in Norwich, this month saw the launch of a new partnership of seven organisations working together to support those in the city who find themselves without a roof over their heads.
Dr Jan Sheldon, chief executive of the St Martins Housing Trust, which is leading that Pathways project, 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.”
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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 that rough sleeping was a complex issue and underlying problems needed to be tackled, with the strategy focused on preventing people ending up on the streets, support for those already sleeping rough and help in finding people new homes.
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It is not yet clear how much of the £100m the government has pledged will come to Norfolk, although 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.
Ministers are also expected to review legislation on homelessness and rough sleeping, including the Vagrancy Act, which dates back to 1824 and still makes it illegal to sleep rough or beg in England and Wales.
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 altogether 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 being “reprioritised” from existing budgets in his department.
Clive Lewis, Labour Norwich South MP, said: “This £100m is nothing. It’s a drop in the ocean and nobody is going to be fooled by it. “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.”
Mr Lewis said: “Norfolk will have made almost a billion pounds worth of cuts by next year. It’s a breakdown in the social fabric of a number of public services.” 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.”
And Local Government Association chairman Lord Porter said the government needed to tackle root causes of rough sleeping, which included a review of welfare reforms.
He said: “Councils want to end all homelessness by preventing it from happening in the first place.
“This means allowing councils to build more social homes, reviewing welfare reforms and ensuring councils have the certainty, resources and tools they need to bring together services around people at risk of becoming homeless.
“It’s good to see other government departments with responsibilities for areas such as employment, mental health and justice begin to acknowledge their critical role in reducing rough sleeping.
“However, we must go much further, much faster. Rough sleeping is only the tip of the iceberg - right now, councils are currently housing over 79,000 homeless families and 123,000 children in temporary housing.”
How big an issue is rough sleeping in Norfolk and Suffolk?
Norwich City Council’s rough sleeper unit last year dealt with 400 rough sleepers, a 60pc rise in two years.
And latest government statistics - from a count conducted in autumn last year - showed there were 1.4 and 1.5 rough sleepers per 10,000 households in West Norfolk and Waveney, respectively.
There was 1 rough sleeper per 10,000 households in North Norfolk, 0.7 in Great Yarmouth, 0.4 in Broadland and 0.2 per 10,000 households in both Broadland and Breckland.