This report seeks Members’ views on a draft Homelessness and Rough Sleeper Strategy 2019-24, which responds to the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, government guidance on homelessness and rough sleeping and current practice in Medway. It replaces the previous Homelessness Prevention Strategy 2017-19.
Members considered a report regarding a draft Homelessness and Rough Sleeper Strategy 2019-24, which responded to the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, Government guidance on homelessness and rough sleeping and current practice in Medway. It replaced the previous Homelessness Prevention Strategy 2017-19.
The following issues were discussed:
· Reasons for homelessness – a Member commented that the reasons cited in the Strategy why someone became homeless or was at risk of becoming homeless were often linked to Government guidance and policies. The concern was expressed that, although the Strategy contained some useful measures, it could not itself address the fundamental problems in Medway, and what was needed was more lobbying of the Government. The Head of Housing advised that the Strategy contained a commitment to lobby the Government about the challenges the Council faced.
· Sustainability of the Strategy – noting that Government funding for next year had not been confirmed, a Member questioned the sustainability of the strategy and whether it could be delivered. The Head of Housing advised that the Council had recently been made aware that Government funding for rough sleeping would be made available and he was confident the Council’s bid would be successful. The risk remained though that the bid would not be approved, which was why a flexible one year action plan had been suggested.
· Temporary accommodation – a Member referred to a significant increase in the numbers of people in temporary accommodation in March 2019 compared to March 2018 and a lack of understanding about the needs of children in this group, what support they were receiving and what conditions they were living in. Another Member emphasised the need for the Council to place a higher priority on young people, particularly those who were vulnerable. The Head of Housing commented that, against a national increase of 5% in people in temporary accommodation, there had been no increase in Medway, although the numbers of children in temporary accommodation would inevitably fluctuate. In Medway families in temporary accommodation were not housed in shared accommodation or bed and breakfast. He would consider adding to the Strategy a section on mapping the needs of these children.
A Member welcomed the move away from the reliance on nightly paid accommodation and find more long leases.
· Training for frontline staff - a Member queried whether there were sufficient resources to deliver training for people with mental health needs and also whether this was in fact something that should be tackled as a Council wide issue. The Head of Housing commented that staff were encouraged to approach this sensitively but it was a challenge to link people to the right levels of support. Funding for this training would be included in the bid for rough sleeping funding. Discussions were taking place with colleagues across the Council and partners about how best to provide the right support for people with mental health needs.
· Rough sleepers in winter – a Member asked what discussions had taken place with those organisations involved in the arrangements for rough sleepers in winter. The Head of Housing stated the Cold Weather Programme was comprehensive and involved a range of partners. A winter hostel would open at weekends and nights where the temperature was forecast to be freezing or below. From January the night shelter run by the churches would be open. The Council would also look to place rough sleepers in temporary accommodation in periods of extreme weather.
· Overlap between homelessness, rough sleeping and begging - a Member asked how well the Council was communicating this complex message to the public. The Head of Housing said regular discussions took place with the Communications Team on suitable publicity and other events such as a stall in the Pentagon Centre for the public to ask questions had recently taken place. He would think about what more could be done. A Member welcomed this differential between homelessness and rough sleeping, given that these groups presented different challenges.
· Use of tents - how the Council was tackling the use of tents by rough sleepers was queried. The Head of Housing commented this was a very complex issue and the presence of a barrier could make it difficult to engage with the rough sleeper inside and potentially place them at greater risk of abuse. Some tents were provided by voluntary organisations and the Council tried to encourage them to provide alternative, sustainable solutions.
· Code of Practice - a Member suggested that the Council should draw up a Code of Practice aimed at signposting those who wanted to help tackle rough sleeping to those organisations who were operating the most effectively. The Head of Housing undertook to raise this idea with the Homelessness Forum.
· Survey questionnaire - it was agreed that a copy of this would be sent to all Members of the Committee.
· Resilience of Third Sector - a Member queried what would happen if a partner helping with rough sleeping decided they could no longer continue. The Head of Housing advised this was not covered by the Strategy and he would consider what options might be available were it to happen.
· Night Shelter - The Head of Housing undertook to look into comments that volunteers for the Shelter had received parking tickets when arrangements had been made for them to park for free.
· Affordable homes – a Member noted the number of times the low level of affordable rental properties was mentioned in the Strategy as a key reason why people were turned out of accommodation they could not afford and queried what was being done to change the Council’s 25% affordable housing target. The Head of Housing commented that the supply of affordable homes was a challenge and also a driver behind a number of issues including homelessness. There was a balance between what level of affordable housing developers could be persuaded to agree to without restricting the number of new homes being built. The housing team worked with registered providers to ensure the 25% target was achieved. The Council was looking to reduce the reliance on the private sector to provide temporary accommodation and also increase the number of tenancies in the private sector.
· Care leavers – noting care leavers were more vulnerable to becoming homeless and that landlords often required a 2 month deposit, a Member stated that at a recent meeting officers had been unable to confirm how the Council could help care leavers with this. The Head of Housing advised the Council had helped care leavers with paying this deposit for some time but he would look at cases where young people had not been aware of this to see if the pathway could be improved. A Member commented this pathway should have been in place already and the Council needed to do more to place care leavers at the centre of its thinking.
· No recourse to public funds – in response to what support was provided to the children of people in this category, the Head of Housing commented that vulnerable children and adults would hopefully be identified and supported by social services.
· Paramount Property Services – a Member referred to an increase in concerns from constituents about a reduction in standards in these properties. The Head of Housing assured Members he was aware of this and was taking action to improve matters.
· S.21 eviction notices – a Member asked how many people the Council had helped to avoid being evicted since the law in this area had changed. The Head of Housing advised the Council had had some success in this area and undertook to provide Members with the details.
The Committee agreed to:
a) note the report;
b) forward Member’s comments to Cabinet, and
c) recommend that the Head of Housing takes steps to further raise awareness amongst relevant teams across the Council of the existence of the Council’s rent deposit guarantee scheme for care leavers.