Wokingham Borough Council has set out to eliminate rough sleeping across the borough within the next three years by continuing the hugely successful work it started during the coronavirus pandemic.
Since March 2020 it has placed almost 100 people who were sleeping on the streets, or in danger of doing so, in temporary accommodation and it expects to reach this figure by the end of next month.
Now it has applied to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities for funding to continue these efforts until 2025, during which time it hopes to reduce rough sleeping to zero, and is expecting a decision in April.
The council’s Government adviser, who is helping with the application, says its achievements to date are a model of good practice and will be showcased to other authorities as an example to follow.
Stepping up in a time of need
At the beginning of the outbreak, the council built on its previous hard work by actively seeking out, in partnership with other agencies, those who were struggling and then finding places for them to stay.
Everyone in need was offered a roof over their head and, since that time, no-one who received help has returned to long-term rough sleeping in the borough.
At first the council was obliged to do this under the Government’s “Everyone In” emergency measures to protect vulnerable people from the virus during the first lockdown. However, the council has continued to offer help to all rough sleepers who have a local connection to the borough despite not having a statutory duty to do so.
The work was carried out initially by its own homelessness team and then with support from Two Saints, which it commissioned to provide an outreach service which visited rough sleepers on the streets, explained the help available and helped them take it up.
The service also helps people to stay in accommodation by guiding them towards welfare and employment support, help with budgeting and health services including GP practices, mental health and substance misuse advice and covid-19 vaccinations, which they were offered as a priority.
At the height of the pandemic there were 37 former or potential future rough sleepers in temporary accommodation but the figure has been less than half that in recent months.
An effective and enduring solution
The council has also launched its first permanent Housing First service for former rough sleepers by purchasing four flats with Government funding which are now let. Housing First is a relatively new housing and support service which gives people who have experienced homelessness and have chronic health and social care needs a stable home from which to rebuild their lives. Intensive, person-centred, and holistic support is provided by Two Saints. Housing First has so far been a great success and the council is now looking at ways of expanding this service to help more of its most vulnerable homeless people access stable accommodation and support.
Despite these significant accomplishments, it continues to see new faces sleeping rough in Wokingham borough so it will work to help these people, as well as those already identified, while helping those placed in permanent accommodation to sustain their tenancies.
All of these steps combined will offer a comprehensive, long-term and sustainable solution to the problem of rough sleeping.
In future, the council plans to be even more proactive by identifying more people at risk of rough sleeping and stepping in before this happens, thus preventing the problem and not simply responding.
The work is part of the council’s wider rough homelessness and rough sleeping strategy, which aims to fight the problem at its roots through a raft of measures including early intervention, building more affordable homes, supporting vulnerable residents and creating housing and job opportunities.
‘Making a difference at a vulnerable time’
Cllr John Kaiser, executive member for finance and housing, said: “We’re incredibly proud of everything we’ve accomplished in tackling rough sleeping so far and are extremely keen to build on this with the Government’s support.
“We were delighted to see the difference our intervention made to people’s lives when the ‘Everyone In’ measures came into force, and that’s why we’ve kept it up long after we were required to. It was, and still is, the right thing to do.
“We’ve been struck by the resilience of those who’ve found themselves homeless during the pandemic, many through no fault of their own, and they’ve shown incredible commitment to resolving their problems and recovering from their experiences.
“We’re also grateful to the many agencies who’ve supported us in this endeavour and made huge efforts to bring people in and keep them accommodated.
“In keeping this fantastic work going, we can build safe, strong communities by supporting people in Wokingham borough at their most vulnerable and, in time, helping them thrive independently in safe, secure and affordable housing.”
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