Local Organisations are Feeling More Pressure than Ever to Tackle Homelessness as Winter Approaches

With homelessness being more on the rise than ever before, local charities and organisations are finding it increasingly difficult to help as many homeless people as possible as colder nights are fast approaching.

In 2016, the number of people recorded sleeping rough in England reached a shocking record of an estimated 307,000, with one in 119 being homeless in Birmingham, and one in 204 being homeless in Coventry.

With more people on the streets than ever before, there is increasing pressure on West Midlands charities and organisations to help as many people as possible to find shelter during winter.

I spoke to a number of organisations across the West Midlands, to try and get an insight on the pressures they are facing, and just exactly what needs to be done to try and help as many homeless people as possible.

Credit @ The Shelter

Andi Conway Norbury, from charity Be Proud Warwick said, “Most groups work in different formats, Coventry has outreach services, with the likes of Coventry Comforters, and Cyrenians, as does Leamington with the Helping Hangs Project, which sorts out food and progression into work, and both city and town have sleep over facilities, usually running all year round.”

He added, “my biggest concern is the rough sleepers who have no access to hostels, as they have no address, and therefore have no established identity as such.”

Andy, however was also cautious to point out that, “The issue with street sleepers is that some don’t want help, which is their sole right.”

His main concerns are that “many projects work over Christmas, but are forgotten in the other weeks of the year.” He said that “what’s needed is permanent facilities to provide housing, with support workers managing the situations, but sadly, it isn’t feasible with the lack of government budgets. Homelessness will rise year on year. Austerity will worsen, Universal Credit will become a catastrophe, with not so much as a blink of an eye from Westminster.”

Credits @ Be Proud Warwickshire

Andy further told me that he is very passionate about creating a long term service that isn’t just there over Christmas, and that will hopefully have a lasting effect. “What I am aiming to do in the New Year is to launch a telephone listening service for people in crisis in Warwickshire.”

“I’m hoping to work together with other agencies, but they don’t tend to harness as one, there has always been a lack of unity.”

When asked what his opinion on homelessness was, he said, “Ultimately, my opinion on homelessness is that there shouldn’t be anyone homeless. Finland has eradicated it, why can’t the UK do the same?”

Speaking to Jeanette and Glyn Jackson from Stoke on Trent based charity, Help for the Homeless, they said “We rely on public donations and the food share charity waste collections from Tesco.” Their opinion on the way to combat so many people sleeping on the streets was that, “there needs to be more shelters open during the winter offering shelter seven nights a week and not just at weekends. The hostels that we so have are full to the brim, which explains the extent of homelessness in Hanley in Stoke on Trent. We are seeing new faces and couples that require help and support from our service. From what we can see, it will only get worse due to benefit cuts and changes.”

Matt, from Coventry’s Open Christmas Charity stated the importance of the public donations, which keep themselves and similar organisations running in order to provide services for the homeless.

Credits @ Coventry Open Christmas

Jodie Dixon, from Emmas, told me that “the companions will be going out once a month to deliver hot stew, warm clothing and bedding to people who are sleeping rough in the local areas. This was something we started last month, and just drove around Leicester City centre looking for people sleeping rough to help.”

Doorway is a Nuneaton based charity, and works with homeless young people aged between 16 to 25 years old.

Speaking to Carol, she said “when [people] first come to us, they have a chat to one of our Housing Needs Advisors who are able to discuss their immediate needs and look at options to prevent street homelessness.”

Doorway have four units of emergency accommodation, which gives time to help them sort out any urgent issues before they move people into their private landlord’s scheme. Once in accommodation a support worker is assigned to help them develop their independent living skills and avoid repeat homelessness. Doorway also works closely with partners in Warwickshire, such as local Councils, statutory organisations and other charities who may be able to help to ensure that all needs are considered.

Doorway is a member of the No Second Night Out group, who organise winter night shelters through local churches, and they are run by volunteers.

Credits @ Doorway

They have a drop in centre in Nuneaton, that young people can call into between 10am and 4pm Monday – Friday. They are also a referral point for young people to access the winter night shelters between December and February. Although they are not funded for out of hours work, they do provide an emergency contact number over the Christmas/New Year holiday to ensure that no-one should be on the streets.

Over the next few weeks as the cold dark nights draw in, Doorway will be organising a collection for their Facebook community to donate warm clothing, blankets, socks, hats and gloves as well as sanitary products.

The Gatehouse Homeless Project was established on the 21st August 2017, with the fundamental purpose of helping vulnerable people in Coventry and Warwickshire.  They aim to achieve this by meeting the very “basic” human needs that we all require. Speaking to Director, Jag Kalsi, he said, “Firstly, we provide hot meals at local shelters, to residents who come in for the night.”

Credits @ Gatehouse Homeless Project

Discussing the advantages of the approach they take, Jag said, “we can access the people in need all in one place.  Our initial target is to provide 1,000 hot meals with an aim to expand this service further. Our future aim is to provide other essentials such as hygiene products and basic clothing.”

Their funding is achieved through organising various entertainment events throughout the year.

Coventry Comfort Carers Crisis Support feed around 40 to 60 destitute people on Outreach each week. AJ Evans, the Co-Founder, told me that, “Homelessness in general amongst families is up, mainly due to issues with private rentals and lack of social housing availability. We helped 19 rough sleepers on our last walkabout. 70% of these were EU nationals with no recourse to funds and many work whilst sleeping rough.”

Coventry Comfort Carers Sleep Out

Focusing on Coventry specifically, “homelessness amongst young persons – which is what [Coventry Comfort Carers] and Langar Aid try and reach by utilising services available to support 16 to 24 year olds is a major factor, but Coventry is doing well with dealing with the issues it presents. Coventry has fantastic organisations, both volunteer and governmental to support those in need.”

After speaking to a number of organisations, it seems the most common problem is a lack of funding to be able to help as many homeless people off the streets as possible in the colder months.

A majority of local councils and housing associations have said benefit caps and cuts to housing benefit explain why homelessness has risen since 2010. The number of people being declared homeless has increased by more than a third since 2010, while the number of people sleeping rough on the streets has surged by even more: up 134 per cent since the Conservatives came to power.

The findings are based on a survey of 106 councils, and more than 50 housing associations, by the Chartered Institute of Housing and the University of Sheffield.

The survey revealed that 84 per cent of local councils think that welfare reforms have made it increasingly difficult for them to combat homelessness, and 70 per cent of housing associations agreed.

An earlier report by the National Audit Office (NAO) showed that there had been a 60 per cent rise in households in temporary accommodation over the last six years, affecting 120,540 children – 73 per cent more than were made homeless in 2011.

The NAO stated that every form of homelessness has increased significantly, therefore costing more than £1bn a year to deal with, and said that, “it appears likely that the decrease in affordability of properties in the private rented sector, of which welfare reforms such as the capping of local housing allowance are an element, have driven this increase in homelessness.

“Despite this, the Government has not evaluated the impact of its welfare reforms on homelessness, or the impact of the mitigations that it has put in place.”

Councils are now working increasingly hard to tackle homelessness, and there are calls for the Government to stop having a ‘light touch approach’ and make a significant impact on the quality of life for homeless people. Petitions for rising house prices to stop are circulating, and councils are working hard to plug the gap between rising rents and frozen housing benefits.

A spokesperson has said that the Government “is committed to ensuring people always have a roof over their heads which is why we’ve committed to eliminating rough sleeping entirely. There’s more to do and ministers will set out plans shortly.”

You can find the full NAO report here.

You can find out more about the charities mentioned below:

Emmaus

Doorway

Coventry Comfort Carers

Coventry Open Christmas

Gatehouse Homeless Project

Be Proud Warwickshire

Emily Stephens

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