Today, we have eight rough sleepers in Ludlow. That’s the highest its been over the last decade. They are mostly in tents scattered around the town. Ludlow currently has nearly one quarter of the rough sleepers in the county. The others are in Shrewsbury and Oswestry, also a couple in Church Stretton and Bridgnorth.

The reason that people become rough sleepers are complex and varied. Every rough sleeper has to be understood as an individual. Broken homes. Domestic Abuse. Behaviour. Drug, alcohol and substance abuse. Criminality. Running out of options on where to live.

The one common factor is that nearly all have mental health issues. Sometimes that is the cause of rough sleeping. Sometimes it is a consequence. Often it is both.

Shropshire Council has always been among the leading councils on rough sleeping. It is doing better than ever now.

It can be very challenging to bring a rough sleeper in from the cold. Most have withdrawn from society and the routine of life. One of the biggest challenges is helping people reengage with day-to-day life and to engage with the professionals who are working to help them.

A decade ago, I stood up in the council chamber in Shirehall to praise Shropshire Council for its work with rough sleepers. It has always done well on rough sleeping. But over the decade, rough sleeping has changed. There are more rough sleepers everywhere. The challenges they face, and the people who help them face, have become more complex. Perhaps in part because we have a bigger understanding of the causes of rough sleeping.

Yesterday I spoke to the council’s cabinet to give my support for the new “Preventing Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy”, which will become council policy after consultation.

Today, I attended the first meeting on the Shropshire Rough Sleepers Coordination group. It brings together practitioners, council officers, police and charities. I joined as the only councillor as I have been actively engaged in helping rough sleepers in our town for a decade. The meeting worked through the roll call of rough sleepers in the county. Maybe there are 35. Maybe more than that. Most rough sleepers are known to officers but some need to have their identity verified to ensure we know the person and can target help. No all are known to the council.

I was impressed by the professionalism, knowledge and dedication in the forum today. I spoke out to praise the rough sleeper team in cabinet yesterday. The entire homelessness team deserves equal praise.

Some communities and people are hostile to rough sleepers. In Ludlow, that’s not the case. Residents and businesses in our town have been providing camping equipment, hot meals, snacks, even phones. There has been tolerance about where the people who have lost their way can camp. If there was a civic award for our community, I would award it to Ludlow for the support it gives to rough sleepers.

Can we end rough sleeping in Shropshire? I doubt it. There are major structural factors causing rough sleeping and homelessness that can only be solved by political action nationally. What we can do locally is reduce homelessness and rough sleeping. I think we are on the path to achieving that in Shropshire.

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