Originally written for the Crewe Chronicle
Official statistics suggest that there are now 21 rough sleepers in the Cheshire East area.
Anybody living in Crewe & Nantwich will share my suspicion of these figures, I’m sure. There are far more than this number sleeping in derelict garages, doorways and car parks in our communities.
I applaud the work that is done by local volunteers. At a visit to St. Stephen’s Church in Crewe, I saw for myself the difference that they can make. But the voluntary sector and the Church can only provide immediate relief for the most desperate people in our society. A long-term solution to this crisis is needed.
The scale of homelessness under this Conservative government is a mark of national shame and the result of eight years of failure on housing. They have no plan to fix the housing crisis.
Since 2010, the trend of falling homelessness seen under Labour has gone into reverse. The number of rough sleepers has more doubled between 2010 and 2017 – up 169%.
The rise in the number of households in temporary accommodation meant that there were 120,000 children spending Christmas in temporary accommodation last year.
I supported the cross-party Homelessness Reduction Act, which draws on changes made by Labour in Wales in the Housing (Wales) Act 2014. I do hope it will make some difference to the scandal of rising homelessness here in England, too.
However, the Bill does not deal with the root causes of rising homelessness over the last six years: a steep drop in investment for affordable homes, crude cuts to housing benefit, reduced funding for homelessness services, and a lack of action to help private renters – and it has not been adequately funded.
One major issue for rough sleepers is access to services. Local volunteers and councillors have talked to me about how they can help somebody to apply for Universal Credit but could be left waiting for 8-12 weeks before the application is processed.
Rough sleepers are one of the most vulnerable groups in society, many with high levels of complex and interrelated needs. It isn’t difficult to understand why leaving these people with nothing for weeks and then providing them with a lump sum is unlikely to be effective.
This week in Westminster, I talked about the high rate of benefit sanctions amongst homelessness service users, and the impact of those sanctions.
Concerns have also been raised about the lack of suitable, specialist mental health support for rough sleepers. Given that almost half of rough sleepers have mental health support needs, it is vital that the government develops an action plan to address the mental health needs of homeless people, including rough sleepers.