I have always worked with those from other political groups on issues where there is a common desire to help … as Chelmsford’s MP I will work with local authorities, volunteers, charities and councillors to make sure that, together, we do all we can to address the issues which result in homelessness.
I believe it is vitally important that the most vulnerable people in society, including homeless people and rough sleepers, are helped to get their lives back on track. This is why I am pleased over £1.2 billion has been allocated to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping through to 2020.
The Government is committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and ending it altogether by 2027. Through the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s Rough Sleeping Initiative the Government has already given £30 million to help rough sleepers in the worst-affected areas this year. I welcome the launch of a new £100 million Rough Sleeping Strategy, which is expected to provide rapid support to up to 6,000 vulnerable people either new to the streets or at risk of becoming rough sleepers. The Strategy is built on three core points: preventing rough sleeping, intervening at crisis points and helping people recover from rough sleeping in a way best suited to them. This will complement the £28 million Housing First pilots which are supporting the most entrenched rough sleepers off the streets by providing them with stable accommodation and intensive wrap-around support.
During winter, I recognise that the cold weather period is particularly challenging. The Government, through the Rough Sleeping Initiative, works with local authorities, charities and other stakeholders to make sure as many people are off the streets as possible. To strengthen provision for rough sleepers during the particularly cold months, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has written to all local authorities to offer additional funding for this period.
International evidence has shown Housing First to be effective at ending long- term homelessness in countries as diverse as Finland, the United States, and Canada. The Government has also committed £28 million of funding to pilot a Housing First approach in three major regions of England. The pilots support some of the most entrenched rough sleepers off the streets and help them to end their homelessness. Individuals will be provided with stable, affordable accommodation and intensive wrap-around support. This will help them to recover from complex health issues, for example substance abuse and mental health difficulties and sustain their tenancies. The impact of these large-scale projects will be measured by a rigorous evaluation and will inform any wider roll out. This is not the only solution, throughout the country a far greater number continue to be helped through local authorities working with partners to achieve the same outcomes in various ways, the Homelessness Reduction Act highlights the importance of prevention and from April 2018 has helped provide the same approach of wrap-around support to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping in the future.
A significant challenge for those who are homeless is accessing and maintaining tenancies in the private rented sector. That is why, at the Autumn Budget, the Government also announced £20 million of funding for schemes that will enable better access to new private rented sector tenancies or support in sustaining tenancies for those who are, or are at risk of becoming, homeless or rough sleeping. This will include schemes focused on specific groups, including prison leavers.
The situation in Chelmsford
Chelmsford City Council, as the local authority, have responsibility for homelessness and rough sleeping in Chelmsford.
The estimated number of rough sleepers in Chelmsford in 2017 was 17, the count in 2018 identified a slightly lower number of 14. This number fluctuates, and the average is around 15. The rough sleepers often circulate between Chelmsford, Southend, Colchester and, to a lesser extent, Ipswich. There are many reasons why people become rough sleepers, a significant number are local, others come to Chelmsford to access services that may not be available elsewhere, including the support services provided within Chelmsford for rough sleepers. Chelmsford City Council’s Winter Project will attract some additional rough sleepers in the winter months. The income generation from begging is generally higher in Chelmsford than Southend or Colchester and it is not always easy to differentiate those who are just begging from those who are homeless.
The vast majority of rough sleepers do not always seek assistance for accommodation from Chelmsford City Council or homeless charities. This can be due to addiction problems, which are often underpinned by mental health issues. Therefore, Chelmsford City Council works with other agencies to provide support for rough sleepers. For example, Open Road works with rough sleepers to provide drug and alcohol rehabilitation and support. CHESS run a night shelter in Chelmsford and offer rough sleepers structured ongoing support.
In addition, a Horizons Project, provided by Full Circle, has received 3-year funding from Essex County Council, following a successful pilot. The pilot project provides intensive wrap-around support to 10 individuals who are homeless, offending and abusing substances.
During the cold winter months, Chelmsford City Council engages with CHESS to provide the Winter Project. It’s opening can be brought forward into November or extended post February if there is severe winter weather.
Those who provide support to those on the streets continue to focus on encouraging Chelmsford’s rough sleepers to engage with the professional services which are available, to assist them to address their issues and thus make it more likely that they will be able to sustain accommodation.
The police will only intervene with rough sleepers if they are engaged in anti-social or criminal behaviour. Rough sleeping itself does not constitute either of these things, therefore, although it can be a source of concern for members of the public, the police do not have powers to move rough sleepers on.
Chelmsford City Council have been clearing unattended bedding from the city centre for some time. However, more recently due to an increase in unattended bedding, food waste, litter and other items, the council is now clearing this twice a week. The Council only remove unattended items and Chelmsford’s rough sleepers are aware that this is done.
Chelmsford City Council and many voluntary organisations across Chelmsford work hard to help the most vulnerable homeless people. They are hoping to start some new initiatives, which I am pleased to support. Chelmsford City Council have applied for funding from the Rough Sleeper Initiative Fund and Private Sector Access Fund with partners to provide even greater levels of support to those sleeping rough, help to access emergency accommodation and funding for supported lettings, which would provide accommodation for those who have been homeless. This would involve providing the individual with affordable accommodation and access personalised support and advice. The support would be less intensive than the night-shelter but would help improve the capacity of the night-shelter by providing move-on accommodation. It would also be an option for those who need housing with support and may otherwise be homeless, for example those being discharged from hospital or evicted by family and friends.
The bids also cover housing co-ordinators who are employed to assist both those who are homeless and others at risk of becoming homeless move through the housing system, from sleeping on the streets through to finding and maintaining their own accommodation. The role would also be able to give some support to other organisations, helping them gain a better understanding of what Chelmsford City Council Housing can provide to help them and their clients ‘navigate’ through what we know can appear to be a complex range of housing options.
Chelmsford City Council and Maldon District Council have jointly applied for funding from the Private Rented Sector Access Fund and the bid for the Rough Sleeper Initiative is being made by Chelmsford City Council working in partnership with the neighbouring districts of Maldon, Braintree and Epping as well as Essex County Council. This will play a key part in the council’s work to tackle homelessness, in particular to assist single homeless people who are at risk of rough sleeping and families who need to move on from temporary accommodation.