Councillors to review rough sleeping in Peterborough after increase in numbers

A rough sleeper in St Peter's Arcade with security guards in the background EMN-161223-105705009
A rough sleeper in St Peter's Arcade with security guards in the background EMN-161223-105705009
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A rise in rough sleepers in Peterborough has prompted a review by city councillors.

A cross-party task and finish group has been set up to make recommendations with Peterborough City Council estimating that there are 21 people sleeping rough in the city, up from 15 last year.

The council has come under significant scrutiny after it paid an external security firm more than £8,000 to patrol St Peter’s Arcade for 19 days over Christmas and the new year.

The arcade - an important walkway linking Bridge Street to the back of the Town Hall - was seeing an increasing number of rough sleepers, and the two guards on duty overnight were paid to tell the homeless what help was available in the city and to report incidents of anti-social behaviour to the police.

A report prepared by the council highlights the significant media interest in rough sleepers as a reason for the review.

In the last few weeks the Peterborough Telegraph has spoken to people sleeping in St Peter’s Arcade and others who busk or beg in the city centre to hear their stories.

The task and finish group will report its findings in a March meeting of the council’s Adults and Communities Scrutiny Committee.

Meanwhile, councils and other organisations in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have been awarded more than £736,000 to help them develop more effective ways of tackling homelessness.

They have been given the task of helping to devise a new multi-agency approach that has prevention and early intervention at its heart.

The funding comes from a new £20 million “Trailblazer” fund set up by the Government to establish “a network of ambitious areas across England” aimed at tackling the root of the problem.

The areas that have been selected to pilot the new approach will look to engage with a wider group of people, not just those who are owed a statutory duty. They will work with the Government to identify what works best and to share best practice.

The primary focus will be on spotting any early warning signs and improving coordination between all the various agencies to enable them to intervene earlier and provide the appropriate support.

Emphasis will also be placed on working closely with landlords to help them maintain tenancies, resolve any problems with tenants and avoid evictions wherever possible.

And more attention will be given to making people at risk of becoming homeless aware of the various means of support that are available.

The funding is for three years. The successful bid was submitted in November by Fenland District Council on behalf of all the agencies in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough that work with people threatened with homelessness.

Councillor Will Sutton, cabinet member responsible for housing, said: “The key to tackling homelessness is prevention – spotting any potential threat early and doing something about it before it turns into a crisis.

“To do that we need to create closer links between all the various agencies, including local housing authorities, health bodies, the police and probation.

“One of our main aims will be to build up knowledge, coordination and training so that all those who come into contact with someone who could be at risk is alert to the danger and knows who else in the network to liaise with to head it off.

“The biggest reason for people becoming homeless locally is because they have lost their rented or tied accommodation. So another vital element will be working closely with landlords to support them, as well as trying to increase the supply of decent and well managed private rented accommodation.”

Jason Ablewhite, Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire, said: “Homelessness is a growing problem and I have seen the impacts on people myself, both on those individuals who are homeless, on the wider community and on those support services that try to help them.

“Focusing on prevention, and identifying those in need before they reach crisis, will help reduce the numbers of people becoming homeless and the impacts this has on both individuals and communities.

“I am pleased to have been able to support this innovative, county-wide project, led by Fenland District Council, and look forward to seeing its impact in the years ahead.”