AN ANNUAL count of rough sleepers found 25 people bedded down on the streets of Reading on one night in November 2018.
The on-street count, which is designed to give a snapshot of a typical night in Reading, found 31 rough sleepers in the borough the previous year.
The reduction in numbers can be attributed to newly Council-commissioned services which allow a rapid response to rough sleepers, plus additional resources funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).
All local councils are required to submit an annual figure to the MHCLG to indicate the number of people sleeping rough on one night between 1st October and 30th November. Reading carried out its borough-wide count on 15th November and the figures were published this week.
Five teams comprising Council staff, local councillors, staff from voluntary sector organisations and local businesses and St Mungo’s outreach service carried out the search, targeting known hotspots.
Nineteen of the people found sleeping rough were men and six women and all but two of the rough sleepers were known to St Mungo’s. Forty per cent of rough sleepers included in the count had no Reading connection. St Mungo’s works to reconnect rough sleepers to their borough of origin but some choose to remain in Reading.
Most individuals found during the count are now accessing various types of accommodation or are working with St Mungo’s to come off the streets. The Council will continue working with partners in meeting its aim to reduce rough sleeping in line with targets set by the MHCLG which are to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminate it by 2027.
Reading has substantial faith and voluntary sector provision and support for rough sleepers, including a winter shelter between January and March, a day centre and regular food handouts.
There are many different reasons people end up sleeping rough with factors including housing affordability, changes to Local Housing Allowance, welfare reform and problems relating to mental health, drug and alcohol abuse.
The Council changed its model of Homelessness Support Services in September 2018 and re-commissioned services with a strong focus on emergency and immediate responses to rough sleepers.
The new Homelessness Support Services include:
· A hub provided by the Salvation Army in central Reading that brings together accommodation and support services, including emergency beds and hostel accommodation for those who need 24/7 on-site staffing support.
· A rough sleeper outreach service provided by St Mungo’s who are now co-located at the hub.
· No Second Night Out provision to ensure that anyone found sleeping rough for the first time receives a rapid response offer to prevent them sleeping rough a second night.
· A Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) to provide emergency bed spaces for rough sleepers regardless of a local connection to Reading.
· Supported accommodation managed by The Salvation Army for those who require a high level of support and supported accommodation provided by Launchpad Reading for people who require less support.
· A floating support service provided by Launchpad Reading targeted at people who are at risk of homelessness.
A Housing First scheme is also run by the Council and St Mungo’s which supports five of the most vulnerable and entrenched rough sleepers into permanent accommodation along with ongoing support from a Housing First Worker.
The Council secured a £316,000 grant from the MHCLG as part of the government’s Rough Sleeper Initiative in June 2018. This money has been used to increase the staffing capacity of the St Mungo’s team and provide additional emergency bed spaces. It has also funded additional staff at Launchpad Reading to support with moving people into independent accommodation and aims to free up much needed supported accommodation. Reading has secured further funds of a similar amount to sustain these extra initiatives in 2019/20.
Once fully implemented, newly commissioned services and the additional grant should ensure a significant increase in the accommodation and support available for rough sleepers and continue to lower the number of people sleeping on the streets of Reading.
Cllr John Ennis, Lead Councillor for Housing, said:
“The reduction in the number of people found sleeping rough in this year’s count can partly be attributed to the new Homelessness Support model which allows for a rapid response to rough sleepers, including emergency bed spaces.
“Additional funding from the MHCLG has also directly affected the number of people sleeping rough due to increased outreach workers and emergency bed spaces.
“A greater focus on preventing homelessness and helping people retain their homes has also had good results.
“However, we are in no way complacent about the degree of homelessness and rough sleeping in Reading and will continue to work with our partners to tackle this complex issue.”
The Council has demonstrably risen to the national housing crisis. This has included strengthening homelessness prevention and continuing to commit to £1.55m per annum to fund services to support rough sleepers and single homeless people, including specialist supported housing for homeless young people.