As rough sleepers face the double threat of harsh winter weather and the ongoing pandemic the region’s local authorities have come together to announce their joint winter plan for individuals at risk of rough sleeping.
In collaboration with the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), the Homelessness Taskforce, and partners from the public, private and voluntary sectors, a joint winter plan to help keep rough sleepers safe has been drawn up by local authorities across the region.
The plan is a commitment to keeping the most vulnerable people safe during winter to ensure that no one dies on the streets during severe weather.
Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands said: “During the Covid-19 pandemic we have been able to make a significant impact to reduce the number of people sleeping rough. With tireless efforts by our region’s local authorities and our partners in the public, private and voluntary sectors, and with the support of government funding, we’ve been able to bring ‘Everyone In’ across the WMCA region. But as we enter the cold winter months, there can be no let-up in our determination to build on the progress that’s been made.
“We must maintain our efforts to protect those at risk of having to sleep rough – so that everyone can have a safe, secure and warm place to live. And as we work to ensure our region recovers from the economic impacts of the pandemic, we must make every effort to ensure no-one is left behind.”
For the third year running local authorities and wider partners have come together to ensure there is a coordinated regional response, and this year will include an ongoing offer of emergency accommodation and move-on support to reduce the risk of Covid-19 among individuals at risk of rough sleeping.
Through this winter and lockdown councils have pledged to ensure no one needs to sleep rough as additional accommodation will be open and every effort will be made to provide individuals with appropriate services to meet their needs and support them to move away from sleeping on the streets for good. This commitment covers everyone, including pet owners, couples, those who have no recourse to public funds, people who may have previously been banned from support services, those with no local connection, and people with complex needs.
West Midlands residents are being urged this winter to let local authorities know about anybody who they think may be rough sleeping. They can do this by contacting StreetLink to connect people sleeping rough to local support services.
Cllr Sharon Thompson, cabinet member for homes and neighbourhoods at Birmingham City Council and chair of the WMCA Homelessness Taskforce Members Advisory Group said, “Across the region, the pandemic has been a real game changer and has allowed us to make an overwhelmingly positive difference to the lives of those sleeping rough. In Birmingham alone, as part of the ‘Everyone In’ scheme we supported more than 140 vulnerable people into accommodation.
“We’ve also committed to continuing with this approach through the colder winter months. To ensure there is enough safe and secure bed space, we’ve commissioned an additional 900 bed nights of accommodation. It factors in the complex and multiple needs of individuals, conditions from cold weather including the severe weather emergency protocol and, all necessary considerations the pandemic brings with it.
“I’m really proud of the response our city has taken to ensuring the wellbeing of some of our most vulnerable citizens and we’ll continue to work with our partners across the region to reduce homelessness and rough sleeping.”
Cllr David Welsh, Coventry City Council cabinet member for housing and communities, said: “Voluntary and statutory services have been working harder than ever in Coventry in ensuring that people sleeping on the street have a bed and shelter.
“Any rough sleeper can access a bed whether our severe weather emergency protocol has been enacted or not and rough sleeper outreach workers are out with other agencies each day encouraging anyone, still sleeping on the street, to make use of the accommodation being offered.
“The community can help too by donating to Change Into Action. The donation scheme acts as a safe and secure way for members of the public and businesses to donate cash. Money goes towards rent payments, new clothes and other essentials that help people make the step from being on the streets into accommodation.”
Cllr Laura Taylor, Dudley Borough Council cabinet member for housing and community services, said: “Rough sleeping shouldn’t be an option that anyone has to choose this winter, or any time of year for that matter and that’s why we once again fully support the homeless winter plan.
“In Dudley we continue to have a low number of rough sleepers but are committed to working with them to offer emergency shelter and support. During the pandemic, we’ve also supported more than 300 households who have been concerned that they may become homeless in the future and others whose housing arrangements have broken down and needed immediate help.
“Our homelessness prevention team has worked hard to find them a bed for the night and somewhere permanent to stay so they do not have to contemplate sleeping rough. This will continue to be an important part of our work this winter.”
Cllr Keith Allcock Sandwell Council cabinet member for homes said:
“Sandwell Council has helped more than 2500 people presenting as homeless or at risk of homelessness since 23 March, giving advice and information - and providing emergency accommodation to all rough sleepers reported to us. This includes supporting more than 100 households into long-term accommodation.
“We have put in place a number of new measures to support homeless people during lockdown and would encourage anyone who is at risk of homelessness to contact us as soon as possible. The earlier a resident contacts us the more likely we can help them remain in their current home and avoid the need for emergency accommodation.
“We do not want anyone to return to sleeping rough and have been supporting rough sleepers throughout all of 2020. Working within our Housing First model we will have helped 27 rough sleepers into longer term accommodation since September 2019 and are working with another 20 people.”
Cllr Karen Grinsell, Solihull deputy leader and cabinet member for adult social care and health, said: “In Solihull there are usually between two and six people who regularly sleep rough and we have worked hard to reduce this further still. However, there are also many people who are homeless and at risk of sleeping rough and we know that over the festive period this group increases.
“Our message is – nobody needs to sleep rough. Our outreach team will continue to check the streets and help and support those who aren’t ready to make the move off the streets into accommodation. People can you help us be our eyes and ears by reporting and referring rough sleepers via StreetLink.
“Since the first lockdown in March we have helped 155 people at risk of homelessness, housing them through emergency Covid-19 placements and 81 of these people have then been supported into longer term housing.”
Cllr Adrian Andrew, deputy leader, Walsall Council said, “Our structured multi-agency approach to supporting Walsall’s homeless and rough sleepers continues to be successful. Our winter night provision, run by the Council’s housing and public health offers temporary accommodation. The fall in numbers accessing this can be attributed to the impact of a four-year investment in the implementation of the Housing First project which has seen 65 rough sleepers housed.
“In addition to the successful partnership working with Public Health and Housing partners and the voluntary sector, there has been the creation of a ‘Rough Sleepers Team’ who daily conduct town centre and street outreach, working directly and proactively with rough sleepers throughout the pandemic.
“A holistic approach to support and accommodation addresses underlying needs and concerns and positive outcomes leaving Walsall in a good position with our figures for preventing homelessness currently at 43%, sitting above the national average of 33%. The number of homeless cases closed is above target as we are successfully moving people into accommodation working in partnership with housing providers.”
Cllr Jacqueline Sweetman City of Wolverhampton Council cabinet member for city assets and housing, said: “Nobody in Wolverhampton has to sleep outside or go hungry as has been demonstrated by our positive work throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Many of those who are rough sleeping do have complex needs. Our public health and housing teams’ partnership approach with homelessness organisations across the city is tackling the issue, supporting people into accommodation and giving them access to the services and support they need.
“Our work does not stop here, and we would encourage local people to continue to support us and donate to the alternative giving campaign via www.wolverhamptonchange.co.uk to support our homeless charity partners.”
West Midlands Winter Plan for Rough Sleepers 2020/21