Local authorities across the West Midlands have pledged to work together to help rough sleepers this winter as part of a coordinated regional response.
For the second year running the seven metropolitan authorities, in collaboration with the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), the Homelessness Task Force, and partners from the public, private and voluntary sectors, have drawn up a homelessness winter plan to help keep rough sleepers safe. The plan provides a commitment that no one needs to sleep rough as shelters, hostels, and emergency accommodation will all be open and available as part of local authorities’ severe weather provision.
This commitment covers everyone, including pet owners, couples, those who have no recourse to public funds, people who may have previously been banned from support services, those with no local connection, and people with complex needs.
For those who need to travel to get to accommodation or to access the support they need, free bus tickets will be available thanks to a collaboration with National Express West Midlands.
Also as part of the 2019 winter plan, people in the West Midlands will be able to alert local authorities to rough sleepers by contacting StreetLink. Each council will then use their own plans and expertise to help rough sleepers, with outreach teams in the seven authorities of the WMCA area working rapidly to locate rough sleepers and support them into a place of safety.
WMCA chief executive Deborah Cadman said: “This plan sets out our joint commitment to keep the most vulnerable people safe during the winter and to make every effort to engage individuals with appropriate services to help them move away from sleeping on the streets for good.
“We know that conditions during the winter that present the greatest risk to the health of people who sleep rough are low temperatures, strong winds, heavy rain and snow. We will do everything we can to ensure that there is a route off the streets for every single person who finds themselves there during severe weather.”
The winter plan follows on from a successful year for the region’s Housing First pilot, with more than 100 rough sleepers moving into permanent accommodation. Over the winter, Housing First will help entrenched rough sleepers with the most complex needs to access accommodation alongside intensive support to enable them to recover from issues such as substance abuse.
Julie Griffin, acting housing director at Birmingham City Council, said: “Winter is a hugely important time when it comes to supporting people who are sleeping rough on our city’s streets. With the near freezing temperatures bringing people indoors, it provides us with additional time to really engage with people indoors, in a stable environment, to be able to make repeat offers of support for health, housing and their general wellbeing.
“Knowing how important these opportunities are, every year, we ensure that in Birmingham there is more than enough emergency accommodation for everybody. To know what support is needed, we need to have a good understanding of the community we are serving. Thanks to the continued hard work of our outreach team and of our partners who help us deliver on our homelessness prevention strategy, this year will be no exception.”
Jim Crawshaw, head of housing and homelessness at Coventry City Council, said: “Agencies working with rough sleepers in Coventry do an excellent job and this is especially the case during the winter months when additional services are made available. With our partners we have recently developed a rough sleepers strategy for the city which focusses on providing co-ordinated policies along with finding longer term housing solutions.
“We want people who are on the street to feel valued but individuals will only engage with organisations when they are ready. We can’t make people take up offers of help – and in many cases we need to be patient, as it is important that especially when temperatures drop that we persuade people to make use of the shelter being offered.”
Alan Lunt, deputy chief executive at Dudley Council, said: “As an authority we are committed to reducing the number of rough sleepers on our streets.
“Our homelessness team puts measures in place, including emergency shelter, every night of the year to make sure no one has to sleep rough.
“As ever, we would urge people to report anyone they think may be sleeping rough, our officers will go out and see them to give them support and advice and provide details of accommodation that is immediately available to them.”
Alan Caddick, Sandwell Council’s director of housing and communities, said: “No one should have to sleep rough at any time but when the cold weather sets in, it is of particular concern and that is why we fully support the Winter Plan. In Sandwell, we have adopted a range of services to help and support anyone found sleeping rough. In particular, these include our outreach service, our severe weather emergency provision and our Housing First project that enables rough sleepers to access mainstream accommodation from which to build a stable life. We also have a range of supported housing available.
“We also work in partnership with other parts of the council, such as our warden service and other agencies such as the police and those from the voluntary sector to help identify rough sleepers to make that all important first point of contact to help rough sleepers off the streets.
“Anyone who is concerned about a person sleeping rough should call the Council’s Housing Solutions Team on 0121 368 1166 – option 2 in office hours and 0121 569 6883 outside of office hours. Past experience tells us that some rough sleepers do not wish to receive help at a particular time but we monitor those who take this option and continue to provide them with support whilst on the streets so that we are ready to support them further should they change their minds.”
A spokesperson for Solihull Council said: “Solihull has few people who sleep rough and those that do are in regular contact with Council services. However, people’s circumstances can change, particularly during the festive period, so we would like to remind people that help and support is available throughout the borough. To request emergency temporary accommodation and an assessment contact Solihull Community Housing on 0121 717 1515 (24/7) and to report and refer a rough sleeper for help, contact StreetLink at www.streetlink.org or on 0300 500 0914. Residents can also help to provide additional support for local homeless people by making a donation at www.changeintoaction.org.uk/solihull .”
Adrian Roche, head of social inclusion and public health at Walsall Council, said: “We offer structured multi-agency support to Walsall’s street homeless and rough sleepers to safeguard the most vulnerable from harm. Our 26-bed Night Shelter offers temporary accommodation in the town centre from mid-October until March of the following year. These extended opening periods mean that rough sleepers are protected during the coldest months of the year, are safe, fed and have access to wider council and health services. Open daily from 8pm until 8am, the Shelter is supported by the Council’s Housing and Public Health teams, Black Country YMCA and many local volunteers.
“Homelessness is complex, it can involve family breakdowns and bereavements, with substance abuse, alcohol and debt playing its part, too. Rough sleepers need support and in the longer term, they need accommodation. In Walsall we can offer both, the national programme ‘Housing First’ and the ‘Rough Sleeper Initiative’ allows us to work closely with local housing providers and specialist health services to improve outcomes for this cohort of people. This structured approach has a proven track record in getting rough sleepers off the streets and into supported housing by providing wrap around services that address their underlying problems.
“It is this consistent and monitored support that will improve their life chances and in some cases save lives.”
Kate Martin, director of city assets and housing at City of Wolverhampton Council, said: “Wolverhampton is working towards there being nobody in the city having to sleep outside or be hungry.
“Many of those who are rough sleeping do have complex needs. Our Public Health in partnership approach is tackling the issue, supporting people into accommodation and giving them access to the services and support they need.
“Our work does not stop here, and we would still encourage local people to continue to support us and donate to our Alternative Giving Campaign.”