On an average night across the country there are between 3500 and 5000 rough sleepers. In West Berkshire the average is around 14. The reasons why people are on the streets are varied and complex but in the fifth largest economy in the world we should be able to tackle this problem. There is the political will as the cross-party support for Bob Blackman’s Homelessness Reduction Bill has proved. And there is a groundswell of national and local will as well.
On a national scale, I am involved with two initiatives, both urgently wanting to see change and action. One is with the Centre for Social Justice which is producing a report for the Government looking at schemes which have worked to all but wipe out rough sleeping in other countries, and also at projects that have proved effective here in the UK. Its proposal to Government will be bold and innovative and evidence-based. The other is with the homeless charity Crisis which is working with the private rented sector to engage them as part of the solution.
In West Berkshire the homeless have a number of places to turn to. Places that work hard to keep people off the streets – the Council, usually the first port of call, Two Saints with its wayfarers’ beds and hostel rooms, Loose Ends for hot food, clothing, toiletries and advice, not to mention the Samaritans, the Salvation Army (which hosts the food bank), Citizens Advice and veterans charities. The same names do not crop up again and again on the Council’s longterm homeless list which indicates that their strategy is working and they are also investing in flats at Fountain Gardens for short term homeless provision. But as recent news coverage has exposed, rough sleeping is still a problem and in the coming weeks all those involved in providing for this vulnerable group are coming together - in the full knowledge that each case is different and usually complex – with a real desire to end something which we all feel is an affront in our modern age.