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Redbridge Council hopes to continue its support for rough sleepers even after the pandemic ends but faces mounting costs.
Figures published by the Government suggest there were around 24 rough sleepers on the borough’s streets in autumn last year, compared to 65 in 2017.
The council’s Health and Wellbeing board heard on March 1 there are now only “very low numbers” of rough sleepers in Redbridge after the council spent millions bringing people inside during lockdowns.
However, the board heard the council’s costs are “piling up” due to rough sleepers with uncertain immigration status and “a small number of very vulnerable women”.
John Goldup, chairman of Redbridge’s Safeguarding Adults Board, said it was vital the council took advantage of the “opportunity to transform the issue” presented by Covid.
He said: “It’s so important that, five years from now, we are not looking at this and saying ‘we did a fantastic job during the pandemic, what happened once it got better?’”
The council’s head of housing needs, Karen Shaw, agreed but noted that continuing the good work would “need more resources” from the Government.
She said: “It’s odd to say that, after the difficult time we have gone through, we have had some positives but some of the people we have found most tricky to engage with have come in for the first time.
“There are three to five entrenched rough sleepers we are trying to persuade to come in but numbers are pretty low.”
However, she said there had been “a bit of migration over recent weeks” from neighbouring boroughs and that some new people “have been causing issues in the local community”.
She told the board that the council faced big challenges providing support for people without recourse to public funds and for a small number of “very vulnerable women”.
She said: “A number of our rough sleepers have no recourse to public funds, which makes finding a long-term solution for them really, really tricky.
“If we break that group down further, about 60 per cent are from outside the EU and have entered the country unlawfully at some point in the past so they have no documents.
“The longer we keep them inside, the more the cost on the borough piles up.
“We have also got a small number of very vulnerable women involved in some quite risky behaviour like sex work or drug issues so we need to develop some kind of specific solution for that group.”
A snapshot of the borough’s population of rough sleepers, taken on one night last autumn and published by the Government last month, showed less than a tenth were women.
Half of those found on the streets at that time were not UK citizens, while a sixth were from outside the EU.
At a Safeguarding Adults Board meeting last February, it was revealed that the number of rough sleepers dying on the borough’s streets had risen sharply in recent years.
At this meeting, Mr Goldup admitted the council seemed unlikely to meet its target of ending rough sleeping by 2022.
A report noted that the majority of those who died had “virtually no contact” with healthcare, apart from repeated hospital visits, after which they were discharged back onto the streets.