Making a change for rough sleepers and preventing homelessness in Leeds
A new strategy to deal with homelessness and rough sleeping are the focus of a Leeds City Council report published this week to deal with the national issue as it affects the city.
The new strategy builds on current successful activity and significant resources already committed to supporting those at risk of homelessness and people who sleep rough.
Recent successes include 80 per cent of cases approaching Leeds Housing Options having homelessness prevented; over 2,000 more household prevented from homelessness since 2016/17; specialist accommodation for young people; extra ‘street sweeps’ to check rough sleepers, particularly in cold weather; daily surgeries at St George’s Crypt and St Anne’s Resource Centre.
Homeless prevention is now embedded in the legal framework in the Homelessness Reduction Act and effective homeless prevention measures used by the council means Leeds has a low level of temporary accommodation placements, especially for homeless families.
Leeds Housing Options deal with around 15,000 households each year and last year helped almost a thousand cases avert the threat of homelessness. The council’s housing options service typically deals with 330 contacts per day and makes use of a wide range of measures to help people gain accommodation they need.
Unlike most other comparable councils, Leeds has not made use of bed and breakfast accommodation for the last five years. This not only means people get more appropriate places to stay, but funding that would have been spent on this can be invested in better value alternatives.
Councillor Debra Coupar, Leeds City Council executive member for communities, said:
“Leeds is committed to tackling the complex issues around rough sleeping and homelessness. While this this will take time, the new strategy lays out how we aim to both meet the challenging government target of significantly reducing the number sleeping rough in the city and build on our successful work preventing homelessness.
The most recent national rough sleeper count in November identified 33 individuals, around a third of whom actually have tenancies or other accommodation, but feel the streets are the better option for them. It is clear rough sleepers have a range of issues which have led to their situation, such as substance abuse, poor mental health and domestic violence. The council is working with statutory agencies, charities and volunteers to reduce rough sleeping and measures already in place are making a real difference on the streets.
Councillor Coupar continued:
“The efforts we have already made as a council, working closely with partners across the city has meant we are well placed to respond to the government’s Rough Sleeping Strategy, published in August 2018. This told councils they needed to have a strategy with explicit provision for rough sleeping and in Leeds this has been built into the update of the council’s former strategy.
“The three pillars of our approach are centred on prevention, intervention and recovery. The better we understand why people choose not to access the resources available and instead sleep rough, the more effectively we can intervene to make people a different choice.
“When someone does not use the housing and help available, then we work with a broad range of people and organisations across the city to put in place the right support and intervention which will offer them a better option.
“We know there is enough accommodation for rough sleepers in Leeds, with tailored recovery packages to support people to rebuild meaningful lives away from the streets. Of course, we can’t force people to take up this support. And until we can comprehensively and collaboratively tackle issues such as addiction, mental health and social care needs, which often accompany rough sleeping and street begging, then people will sadly still be sleeping on the streets. This challenge for Leeds is a challenge throughout the country. Our new strategy provides Leeds with evidence and focus to meet the challenge and make more progress.”
At the heart of the Leeds approach is providing help and support in a way people need, whether that be supporting someone trying to tackle addiction, helping them learn new skills, or assisting them into training, education or work..
Among the recommendations and examples of good practice highlighted in the strategy are:
Big Change – the city’s awareness campaign, launched in October 2018, encourages members of the public and businesses to offer time, items or money to an independent centrally co-ordinated point. Managed by Leeds Community Foundation, the resources are then targeted to deliver help and support where it’s most needed.
Gym membership support – helping people become healthier and providing a focus.
Educational and vocational support – making a difference to employment chances and improving confidence.
Mental health and substance abuse intervention – addressing complex health needs with expertise and targeted support, with wrap-around services for street users.
Increased Street Support investment – providing resources to allow teams in the city to make interventions more promptly.
Linking with hospitals and prisons to ensure no one is discharged to the street – reducing the risk that that people end up on the streets for want of an alternative.
Working with DWP and other organisations to improve employment access – making sure benefits advice and help into employment is joined up, reducing the risk of people being left without financial support.
The strategy also recognises that particular issues can increase the risk of homelessness for some priority groups, including care leavers, former members of the armed forces, victims of abuse, prison leavers and some other groups.