INTERVIEW: How the council helps people sleeping rough in Peterborough

A rough sleeper in St Peter's Arcade
A rough sleeper in St Peter's Arcade
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The number of rough sleepers in Peterborough has risen to an estimated 31 following a count last November, but everybody on the streets is offered help according to the city council.

Housing needs manager Sean Evans said a rise in rough sleeping was linked to a rise in homelessness, which is also a problem in the rest of the country, but that each person sleeping outdoors is offered a package of assistance.

He explained: “For the most entrenched rough sleepers it will be very baby steps. We will just be going to see them every day so they start engaging with us.

“With new rough sleepers, engagement with them is quite quick. You are able to get them into services and into accommodation much quicker.”

Asked why it takes longer to find accommodation for more entrenched rough sleepers, Mr Evans replied: “What’s normal for you will be different to what’s normal for somebody that’s been sleeping rough for a year.

“If I came to you and said ‘I’m going to take my flat away from you, or your house, and you’re going to sleep in the doorway of The Works now’, how would you cope with that?

“It would be very difficult to come to terms with.

“If I went to the person who has been sleeping in the doorway of The Works for 10 years and said ‘right, I’m taking you away from here, I’m going to put you in this flat, you’re going to have to pay your rent, you’re going to have to pay your water, your gas, your electrics, your TV licence etc etc’. All of that responsibility would be too much for them to comprehend and deal with and being enclosed in that space would be too much to deal with as well.

“There will be people you walk past every day where we have assisted them with accommodation and they struggle in that setting.

“I have one I know of now I have housed recently who still probably two nights out of seven sleeps out because they struggle being in that accommodation setting.”

The council offers emergency shelter for people when the temperature is forecast to drop to 1°C three nights in a row, and it also offered it throughout the Christmas period.

The PT also asked the council about a person who was being evicted from temporary accommodation because he had twice been found with “drug paraphernalia” in his room.

Explaining why it was decided to evict him, Mr Evans said the council is “tolerant to a point.”

He said: “We don’t take decisions like that lightly, and it will generally be where they are not only a risk to themselves, they are a risk to the other people that are accommodated around them.”

But he added that support would continue to help the person with his problems and to find private accommodation.

Moreover, Mr Evans, when questioned, said people with rent arrears are excluded from receiving social housing. Instead, the council offers support to reduce the person’s arrears so they can get on the housing list, or offers support for private accommodation.