On a recent night, I was contacted on Facebook about a 16-year old sleeping rough on the streets of Shrewsbury. This young woman was vulnerable and needed safeguarding. I advised my Facebook contact to take the youngster to Shrewsbury Ark, a drop in centre for the homeless and vulnerable. Once there, she was re-engaged with the support network from Shropshire Council that had been trying to help her. She is now in a hostel and I hope that she gets the help she needs.
This youngster had dropped through the system. It is very hard to engage with council officials and family, and even with friends, when your life has plummeted into the crisis that is homeless. That’s why the help given by the Shrewsbury Ark is so important.
Now, the Shrewsbury Ark is going to do a lot more to help rough sleepers.
If you walk around Shrewsbury, you will encounter several homeless people. It is worse in cities like Birmingham or Oxford. Here in Ludlow, we see a number of homeless men, most middle-aged, many ex-army. We perhaps talk to seven or eight a year. Occasionally, we find younger people on the streets.
Earlier this week, Shropshire Council announced it had awarded the Ark a grant to go out into the community to locate and offer support to rough sleepers. The aim is to deliver the concept of “no second night out in the cold”.
Under the new service, members of the public are asked to contact Streetlink on 0300 500 0914 – www.streetlink.org.uk – to provide information on people sleeping rough in their community. The Ark Outreach programme will then respond the next working day, making contact with those in need and arranging suitable accommodation. The Ark will arrange follow-up visits, giving its clients ongoing support to avoid them reverting to rough sleeping.
This is a seriously good initiative and I congratulate Shropshire Council and the Ark for launching it.
In 2015-16, Shropshire Council helped 269 people who were homeless and in priority need. That’s about the national average outside London (source: ONS). Shropshire Council has recently adopted a new homelessness strategy. It makes a lot of sense and has two main aims:
- To increase prevention of homelessness, with a focus on helping more people facing housing issues to help themselves;
- To improve outcomes for, and protect persons, where homelessness cannot be prevented.
We must help the people we identify as rough sleeping and homelessness. We should also not forget that there are many people who are best described as “hidden homeless”. The hidden homeless struggle for housing. They sofa surf or live in seriously unsatisfactory conditions. There are a number of people sofa surfing locally. Others live in crowded conditions with their parents or friends.
This is one reason why affordable housing topped the agenda of the Local Joint Committee on 16 June. The meeting heard from Shropshire’s head of planning Ian Kilby. He said that 270 people are looking for affordable housing in Ludlow, of which 153 are currently residing in the town. See my guide to getting housing…
In this county, we face a shortage of small properties, suitable for young and single people. Only 19% of dwellings fall into the lowest council tax Band A, compared to 25% nationally, and the local percentage is falling. We are building homes above the national average rate but I don’t think that we are building the right mix of housing.
We need more small houses. We need more affordable homes but government policy has all but destroyed our ability to build them or demand them from developers. We need to bring empty homes back into use, not sit back while Shropshire gains an extra 11 empty homes a month.
I am glad that Shropshire Council and the Ark have launched an outreach initiative to tackle rough sleeping. But if we want to tackle homelessness and the shortage of suitable housing, we need to think harder and deeper. Our main priorities for the county should be making available housing for people with limited incomes or who are vulnerable.
Regrettably, homelessness and rough sleeping are not even mentioned in Shropshire Council’s recently published Corporate Plan. That means that as the budget cuts bite deeper and deeper, there is a danger this work will not be seen as a priority.
The Shrewsbury Ark is vital to the work we do to help homeless people in the county. Please donate here…
My guide to where to get help on housing: Getting Help on Housing 2016