Although it is year-round issue for anyone facing the devastating consequences of homelessness, rough sleeping inevitably becomes more high profile as we move into the colder months of the year. All of us, as concerned individuals, ask the same questions: why are people sleeping out? What help is available? Why is no one doing anything?
The answer, of course, is that a lot of people are doing a lot of good things and in West Berkshire there is a winter plan already firmly in place. As well as statutory provision (the Council), there are many groups and organisations which provide support for people who are homeless or vulnerable, week in week out, all year round: Loose Ends, the Newbury Soup Kitchen, West Berkshire Homeless, the Salvation Army, Eight Bells, Swanswell, Citizens Advice. These involve an army of volunteers who are making a huge difference and who deserve heartfelt thanks.
The Government has committed to halve rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament and to end it completely by 2027 and is putting its money where its mouth is. ‘Big guns’ such as the CEOs of Crisis and Shelter have been brought into advise Ministers from all the relevant departments. The Rough Sleeping Strategy is based around three pillars: prevention, intervention and recovery – timely support to avoid a homeless crisis, swift targeted help for those that do become homeless, and a rapid rehousing approach, with all the necessary wraparound support, to get rough sleepers off the streets and enabled to rebuild their lives. As part of this, last month the Rough Sleeper Initiative Fund allocated additional funding for 83 local authorities with the highest numbers of people at risk; West Berkshire was given £264,820. It is good to see that statutory provision in Newbury has significantly increased for this winter: Two Saints, the hostel in Newtown Road, has taken on a second outreach worker and the SWEP (Severe Weather Emergency Protocol) has been extended so that anyone sleeping rough who has a local connection to the area will be able to find shelter there every night if they wish from November through to March. This is a notable increase over last year and the Council is to be congratulated on its commitment.
As ever the first port of call for anyone facing homelessness or the threat of homelessness is the housing options team at the Council. If you are concerned about someone sleeping rough, you can also send an alert via the Streetlink website (www.streetlink.org.uk), which will be forwarded to the services in our area to help them find the person and connect them to support. I am totally committed to the aim shared by all: that no one should be sleeping on the streets this winter.