James Brokenshire: Everyone deserves a safe and secure place to call home
The government’s rough sleeping strategy is seeing results, but the ambition is to eliminate it altogether and that needs a cross-departmental approach, says James Brokenshire
Just before Christmas, I spent time with a rough sleeping outreach team to see first-hand the work undertaken to help people off the streets.
Walking the streets of London underlined to me the stark picture of people living rough, and the individual stories of those living in the cold. In 2019, this simply does not reflect the country we should be.
That’s why ending rough sleeping in its entirety is my priority as communities secretary. The government is investing £1.2bn to tackle homelessness, and just last summer I announced our £100m rough sleeping strategy which sets out how we will reach our ambition to eliminate rough sleeping for good.
And this money is starting to have an effect. Figures published last month show the number of vulnerable people sleeping on the streets has fallen for the first time in eight years.
Councils across the country have used funding to create an additional 1,750 beds for those sleeping out in the cold and employ an extra 500 rough sleeping support staff – meaning more people are in warm beds tonight and have been helped off the streets and into recovery.
This winter, we have provided additional investment for over 130 councils across the country to provide an extra 800 beds during the coldest weather. In Manchester and Luton, funding has been used to create new shelters, while Camden has created a dedicated shelter for LGBT+ rough sleepers – the first of its kind in the country.
In the areas directly funded by our rough sleepers initiative, results are even more promising with numbers of rough sleepers falling by almost a quarter.
And in Southend – where £425,000 of funding has been used to hire more rough sleeping support staff, as well as boosting services at the local day centre so those sleeping in the cold have somewhere to go during the daytime as well as at night – the number of people sleeping rough has reduced by 85%. A truly remarkable result.
While in Medway, where additional emergency accommodation has been provided for the most vulnerable rough sleepers – backed by over £410,000 of government investment – numbers have fallen by over half.
These are successes which should be commended, showing how government support is having a real impact in getting people out of the cold and into a safe and secure home.
It also helps us to understand what works in tackling rough sleeping in some of the most challenging areas in the country, so we can redouble our efforts in those areas where the picture is less positive.
But no one can do this alone; it’s a team effort and I am working with my colleagues across government, as well as councils, community groups and charities to ensure no one has to spend their life on the street.
And so as part of the NHS long-term plan, NHS England has committed to spend £30m over the next five years to ensure rough sleepers get the targeted healthcare they need, including specialist mental health and substance misuse services.
And at the Department for Education, we have announced over £3m for personal advisers to provide support for vulnerable young people leaving care who are teetering on the edge of homelessness. This money will be used to support these young people into stable accommodation where they can go on to thrive.
This just goes to show what is possible when we combine our collective efforts to help some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Everyone deserves a safe and secure place to call home, and while the latest figures are undoubtedly a step in the right direction, I do not underestimate the task ahead in achieving our ambition of eliminating rough sleeping altogether.
James Brokenshire is Conservative MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup, and HCLG secretary