Ending rough sleeping
The sight of a huddled figure in a doorway is an affront to us all and ending rough sleeping is one of my aims during my time in Parliament. Last year saw important steps in this campaign like the passing of Bob Blackman MP’s Homelessness Reduction Bill which from April this year puts a new duty on Councils to help prevent homelessness up to 56 days before it happens, and a duty to take active steps to support people out of homelessness regardless of whether they are in ‘priority need’. The fact that this got cross-party support is an indication of the groundswell of feeling about this issue.
It also saw the publication of an influential report by the Centre for Social Justice think-tank, which I was proud to co-sponsor. Called ‘Housing First’, it advocates a housing-led solution to the issue of rough sleeping, with wraparound support. I am delighted that this initiative was endorsed by the Chancellor in the autumn Budget when £28 million was allocated to pilots which will run in Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands. Initial evidence shows that this approach works.
This groundswell of support has been reflected in West Berkshire. I was delighted to be able to facilitate the homelessness round table last March, hosted by West Berkshire Council, which brought together all interested bodies, both statutory and voluntary. We heard then about MEAM, Making Every Adult Matter, and its approach to working with the particularly vulnerable, hard-to-reach homeless whose complex needs mean that they find it almost impossible to access help. West Berkshire has now been accepted into the MEAM project, the steering group is meeting monthly and a coordinator has been appointed. This group will start working with around 5 to 10 individuals.
This winter has seen the start of the West Berkshire Homeless project in Newbury. This group of passionate volunteers opened a night shelter in the Salvation Army hall in Northbrook Lane which was open every night during December, January and February, providing beds for 13 people. It seeks to support people back into work and accommodation. If you are interested in getting involved go to www.westberkshirehomeless.co.uk or visit their Facebook page @WestBerkshireHomeless.
Underlying the issue of homelessness is of course a raft of other issues like addiction, mental illness, relationship breakdown, job loss and access to affordable housing. Getting people off the streets in Newbury is only going to happen when we address all these different problems. Working again with the CSJ, I am part of a group of MPs looking at new ways to address the unaffordability of homes in the UK. I have also attended meetings of Healthwatch West Berkshire as part of my campaign to ensure that mental health is a priority. Opening up the conversation about mental health and tackling the stigma surrounding it is part of this and I am delighted to support the work of the inspirational team at Brighter Berkshire and the West Berkshire Suicide Action Group.
UPDATE: in view of the interest in this issue, highlighted in particular during the cold weather at the end of February, I have produced a leaflet which summarises the action being taken locally and nationally to tackle homelessness and to end rough sleeping. You can read it here or contact my office on 01635 551070 for a printed copy.