Roughsleepers’ plight a ‘wake up call’
Councillor Steven Lane represents Werrington First on Peterborough City Council
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.