New plan to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping in Peterborough
Peterborough City Council’s Cabinet has approved a new five-point plan to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping in the city.
At a meeting (January 10) of the Cabinet – their first of the New Year – Cllr Steve Allen, Cabinet member for Housing, Culture and Communities said: “Our new Homelessness Strategy is something which the Council has a statutory duty to produce every five years, and which lays out how we will tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over that period.
“Over the last 10 months, since receiving endorsement, the Housing Needs Team have been working with partners from the statutory, voluntary and faith sector to develop a homelessness and rough sleeping strategy that not only informs the work programme of the housing needs service for the next five years, but accounts for and builds on all of the relationships that have been formed and strengthened while we as a city have been tackling COVID.
“It’s clear that we couldn’t have managed and achieved what we have, during the most challenging of times, without the support of key organisations across the city.
“Nevertheless, homelessness continues to be an ongoing issue in the city, and without a sharp focus on delivering services that meet the needs of the most vulnerable, the negative impacts on families and individuals will be felt for years to come.
“Immediately prior to the pandemic the Council achieved zero households in bed and breakfast accommodation after a period of high demand and low supply of suitable temporary accommodation meant that we were left with no option but to place households in B&Bs, sometimes outside of Peterborough.
“No sooner had we achieved this, that the pandemic hit, and the country entered lockdown.
“With this came the instruction from government that councils should mobilise a response that would mean that all rough sleepers were lifted from the streets and provided with accommodation and support to reduce the risk of contracting COVID.
“We were also advised that our night shelter and crash bed provisions could not remain open because of the shared sleeping space and increased risk of transmission.
“Our understanding of needs in the city, and from what those with lived experience have told us, shows that we have five priorities for the next five years:
“1. A system wide relentless focus on preventing and relieving homelessness.
“2. Aspire to create a positive experience for all clients on their homelessness journey and work to ensure that homelessness is a one-off event.
“3. Ensure suitable homes are made available, that clients support needs are met, and they feel part of their community.
“4. Empower rough sleepers and those at risk of rough sleeping to make positive choices to move on to suitable homes.
“And, 5. Strengthening our partnership & multi-agency work through transformation to achieve a whole city approach to tackling homelessness.
“Our strategy will apply to all, but we recognise that some people are affected by different factors in their lives which may make them more vulnerable to becoming homeless, or who may struggle to find a pathway out of homelessness if it happens to them.”
Cllr Irene Walsh, Cabinet member for Integrated Adult Social Care, Health and Public Health asked: “Are we sufficiently concentrating on the causes of homelessness, because at the end of the day no matter what has caused a person to become homeless will be the key to getting them off the streets?”
Sean Evans, Head of Service, Housing Needs replied: “You are absolutely right councillor, we must look at the root causes of homelessness and the reasons why people find themselves sleeping rough on our city streets in order to tackle this issue and ensure that homelessness is a once-only event in their lives.
“Prior to the pandemic, the primary reason for homelessness was the loss of accommodation in the private sector under s.21 evictions.
“Since COVID, obviously, that has changed somewhat, so yes, we are concentrating our efforts on getting to understand the problem much further upstream and help those households as soon as they find themselves with an issue that could potentially lead to homelessness.
“We’re even reaching out to landlords now who are thinking of evicting their tenants for whatever reason they may have, and so we can intervene at that point and overcome any issues that they may have unless it is a purely economic one and they just want to sell the property.”
Cllr Gul Nawaz, Cabinet member for Community Cohesion, asked: “What are the financial implications for the council if we adopt this strategy?”
Mr Evans replied: “I admit we don’t yet know the financial implications of this strategy because we’ve only been able to account for the pressures on the horizon that we do know about – the ending of the furlough scheme is going to add pressure to an already stretched budget, as will the lifting of the restrictions on eviction which were in place during the pandemic.
“The key financial risks to the strategy are those elements which we are not aware of right now, and which may or may not affect what we are doing in the future.
“But, having said that, we think that as a council we’ve got our forecasting right and that financially our burden may actually go down – through shifting our priorities from dealing with homelessness and rough sleepers already on the city streets, to one of tackling the root-problems of homelessness as they occur, we will in the long-run save money.”
The recommendations to the Cabinet were unanimously approved and now go forward to the Full Council for final approval when they meet on 26 January 2022.