A “Herculean” response to the COVID-19 pandemic has led to more than 80 per cent of former rough sleepers in Southend being placed in permanent homes.
Southend Council’s housing solutions and homelessness teams have worked tirelessly since the Government announced on March 23 that all rough sleepers needed to be accommodated.
After housing 138 rough sleepers into temporary accommodation throughout lockdown, and working with charities and partner agencies to provide meals, medicines, clothing and support, thoughts immediately turned to the ongoing support following the easing of restrictions.
Now more than 80 per cent of former rough sleepers are in more permanent tenancies with ongoing support in place.
Following Government guidance, emergency night shelters for rough sleepers will only open this winter as a last resort and in consultation with Public Health. Instead the council has launched its ‘Somewhere Safe to Stay’ project which involves:
- Providing single COVID-safe rooms, with individual washing facilities available via HARP.
- Employing a housing solution officer specifically to carry out rapid assessments for accommodation pathways for rough sleepers.
- Providing former rough sleepers with lessons in life-enhancing skills, such as cooking.
- Additional training for staff.
Cllr Ian Gilbert, leader of the council with a responsibility for housing, said: “Our housing solutions and homelessness teams have worked 24/7 to ensure the ongoing safety and wellbeing of rough sleepers, so much so that we are pleased to announce that more than 80 per cent of former rough sleepers with a Southend connection, are now living in permanent accommodation.
“This is such a positive position, we are concentrating our efforts on maintaining the excellent outcomes achieved by continuing to provide support to former rough sleepers and finding homes for those who remain in temporary accommodation but still wish to be housed permanently.”
The ‘My Property to Let’ campaign highlighted more than 300 homes, which has increased the council’s housing solutions portfolio. While those former rough sleepers who no longer need high level support were moved to alternative accommodation with ‘floating’ support, which is there when the person needs it.
Multi-disciplinary teams of support have been introduced, including mental health outreach workers, in addition to multi-agency outreach worker teams, plus continuous GP support services to address health needs.
On June 24 the Government announced an additional £105 million rough sleeper COVID-19 funding for England, known as The Next Steps Accommodation Programme (NSAP).
This funding was to be used to support rough sleepers and those at risk of homelessness into tenancies of their own, including help with deposits for accommodation, and securing thousands of alternative rooms already available and ready for use, such as student accommodation.
Southend was allocated £313,846 for immediate and short term needs to cover B&B accommodation and EU national’s placement, as we support them with eligibility status or reconnection to their home country.
In a letter of thanks, Cllr Gilbert praises the “Herculean effort” of the council, organisations, charities and volunteers involved with homelessness.
He added: “I am incredibly proud of the teamwork, effort and commitment displayed by everyone involved in this achievement. The council coordinated a response and created a heartfelt local community response to a national health crisis.
“Our officers and outreach teams continue to work hard to support the homeless community, and I would like to remind the public that the homeless person you may see every morning will be known to authorities and we will be working with them. Accepting help requires trust and sometimes that can take a little time to build up, in order to be convinced the offer being made is genuine.
“There is a unique story behind every person who is sleeping rough and rough sleeping is very much the extreme end of homelessness. We continue to do all we can to help rough sleepers off the streets of Southend.”
If you are concerned about a particular rough sleeper, who is over 18, visit: www.streetlink.org.uk
If you are concerned about a rough sleeper who is under 18, please call 999.