Rough­sleep­ers’ plight a ‘wake up call’

Coun­cil­lor Steven Lane rep­re­sents Wer­ring­ton First on Peterborough City Coun­cil

The Peterborough Evening Telegraph - - Speaker’scorner -

Iwon­der how many amongst us have been freez­ing our socks off out­side lately. Well, be as­sured that you are in good com­pany, be­cause I’ve felt mis­er­able too.

How­ever, I write in the com­fort of my own warm home, and know that I can at least snug­gle up in bed ev­ery night. I will cer­tainly never feel the damp, bit­ing cold, nor be as for­lorn as those with­out a roof over their head, some­thing that I have been ashamedly made to re­flect af­ter be­ing told there has been an in­crease in rough sleep­ing over the re­cent Christ­mas and New Year pe­riod.

As a re­ac­tion to this news, Wer­ring­ton First coun­cil­lors have joined with col­leagues in an ur­gent quest to de­ter­mine who, where and why there is still rough sleep­ers on our streets.

Fol­low­ing this wake-up call, and a re­quest from the Leader of the Coun­cil, our Adults and Com­mu­ni­ties Scru­tiny Com­mit­tee has es­tab­lished a cross-party work­ing group to seek find­ings on the is­sue and to en­sure there is no stone un­turned to help vul­ner­a­ble cit­i­zens.

The re­view aims to de­liver a re­port to the March com­mit­tee meet­ing with any po­ten­tial rec­om­men­da­tions to im­prove, en­hance or cre­ate ser­vices and sup­port that can re­duce the num­ber of peo­ple sleep­ing rough.

Na­tion­ally, home­less and rough sleep­ing is on the in­crease, and has been a sign of the times for many years now, but lo­cal au­thor­i­ties hav­ing to man­age this are not helped by con­stantly be­ing stripped of fund­ing to their bud­gets by cen­tral gov­ern­ment. The aus­ter­ity pro­gramme of the last six years has de­liv­ered a damn­ing con­se­quence through a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors that are be­gin­ning to have an im­pact at the same time. It leaves coun­cils stuck be­tween a rock and a hard place.

Al­though we can rea­son away the root cause as much as we want to, it does not al­ter the crit­i­cal fact that what­ever the cause of home­less­ness, the im­pact on those it af­fects is se­vere. Through­out all the time they are wor­ried about hous­ing they can­not fo­cus on em­ploy­ment, which is a core el­e­ment for self-es­teem, and can dam­age a per­son’s self­con­fi­dence and all round men­tal health and well­be­ing. One dras­tic con­se­quence of this con­di­tion is that a small num­ber may slip through the net and end up on the streets.

Peterborough City Coun­cil, like all lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, has a statu­tory obli­ga­tion to do as much as it can to pro­tect those with­out ap­pro­pri­ate shel­ter from the ex­trem­i­ties of cold weather.

Fol­low­ing ad­vance warn­ings from the Met Of­fice, it will ini­ti­ate an emer­gency pro­to­col dur­ing pro­longed pe­ri­ods of cold weather to pro­vide a night shel­ter for rough sleep­ers. Of course, other means of sup­port will con­tinue out­side of those pe­ri­ods with agen­cies work­ing along­side the coun­cil, but what can elected mem­bers do to help?

In­di­vid­u­ally, coun­cil­lors can­not do much to ease the plight for rough sleep­ers, but col­lec­tively we can urge for a suit­able, proac­tive drive by those in au­thor­ity. We may soon have an op­por­tu­nity to make things hap­pen and help pre­vent so many be­com­ing this des­per­ate, fol­low­ing the wel­come news that Pe­ter­bor- ough is joined with Cam­bridgeshire in de­vel­op­ing more ef­fec­tive ways of tack­ling the is­sue. They have just been awarded fund­ing from the De­part­ment for Com­mu­ni­ties and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment to de­vise a new, multi-agency ap­proach with preven­tion and early in­ter­ven­tion as the key. The scheme’s main pur­pose is to de­tect early warn­ing signs of im­pend­ing or po­ten­tial home­less­ness, and to then di­rect agen­cies to pro­vide the ap­pro­pri­ate ar­eas of sup­port.

The idea stems from the old adage that preven­tion is bet­ter than cure, but I sim­ply hope that all our work and the coun­cil’s ef­forts will see the num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als in cri­sis fall, and we might find that by the end of the pro­ject we will at least have a bet­ter idea of what works and what doesn’t, to help aid fu­ture strate­gies.

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