Council leader cllr John Holdich
The matter of homelessness and rough sleeping is a topic that has attracted significant interest in the media in recent weeks.
It’s an important and sensitive issue not just on a local level, but also on the regional and national agenda. I want to take this opportunity to talk about it a little more and some new initiatives we are working towards.
In Peterborough it is estimated there are 21 people sleeping rough, up from 15 last year. Nationally, the 2015 rough sleeping count showed that 3,569 people were rough sleeping in England on a single night, up 102 per cent from 2010.
This figure is expected to rise for 2016.
Responsibility for the management of rough sleepers in Peterborough and the support services available to them sits within our Housing Needs department. They work closely with the Prevention and Enforcement Service and our partner agencies including the police.
We have a dedicated rough sleeper outreach worker who is currently working with 16 rough sleepers in an attempt to get them off the streets and into appropriate and safe accommodation.
However, not everyone wants to accept our offer of help; five rough sleepers known to us are refusing to engage with services. We never give up on those people and persistently try and work with them.
However, we are aware that some people sleeping rough have their own secure accommodation to return home to and choose to sleep rough either to support begging activity or simply because they want to sleep on the streets.
Although housing is at a premium, the fact remains that everyone who finds themselves homeless has an offer of accommodation from us. There is no need for anybody to sleep rough in Peterborough and not every town and city adopts this approach.
There are a range of services and options that are offered to every rough sleeper but we want to do more.
Last November, the government published details of £40 million funding to support local authorities and other agencies to formulate innovative ideas in order to improve homelessness provision for those who need it.
In the first bidding round, we successfully submitted a joint bid in partnership with the other Cambridgeshire councils and we are now a Homelessness Prevention Trailblazer area.
Initiatives we want to introduce include the creation of a homelessness prevention hub, which will allow landlords and other agencies to highlight households at potential risk of homelessness.
I also want to introduce a set of solutions for Peterborough that support rough sleepers off the streets where they engage with us, manages rough sleepers off the streets where they are not engaging with us, and makes our streets feel safe and welcoming for all our residents and visitors.
To achieve this I believe it requires the support and input from across the political spectrum, and so I will be asking our Adults and Communities Scrutiny Committee to work with officers to recommend actions and interventions that resolve the challenge.
To start the process I have asked officers to arrange a briefing for all councillors at the start of February.
I have also arranged a walkabout in known rough sleeper hotspot locations to which members of the Adults and Communities Scrutiny Committee and the five Group Leaders will be invited.
This will help everyone to experience the issues first hand, before moving into a more formal process of cross-party working.
If there is anything further we can do to prevent people becoming homeless in the first place, or to encourage people sleeping rough to take up our support, then of course we want to know about it.
An annual service to remember the suffering and sacrifice of millions of people killed in genocides including the Holocaust takes place next week.
This year’s event to mark Holocaust Memorial Day is at St John the Baptist Church, on Thursday, January 26. Do attend this service at 12 noon if you are able to.
Sacrifice is a key theme for another event I am proud to be attending.
Peterborough World War Two veteran Eddie Hall will be awarded the Légion d’honneur for his service in the liberation of France in the Second World War.
Mr Hall, now a great- grandfather who lives in Gunthorpe, will be presented with the prestigious accolade on behalf of the French government.
Now aged 91, Mr Hall was just a teenager when he took to the English Channel in his role as a Royal Navy radar operator.
I look forward to meeting him.