Rough sleeping is a problem all year round, but it is even more acute during the cold winter months, writes Ipswich Borough Council Leader, David Ellesmere.
Across the country, homelessness and rough sleeping has been rising.
Government cuts to benefits are largely to blame. The problems with Universal Credit are well known but the punitive sanctions regime can leave people without funds for weeks or even months. The value of housing benefit has been frozen so that it no longer covers the cost of rent for many houses.
Caption: Council Leader, David Ellesmere, and Housing Portfolio Holder, Neil MacDonald outside Ipswich’s new homeless unit.
Support for people who are in most danger of becoming homeless – such as drug treatment programmes and mental health support – has also been cut.
Cuts are continuing despite Theresa May’s claim that “austerity is over”. In Suffolk County Council’s budget, there is a cut of £450,000 in “support to people at risk of homelessness”.
It is against this unfavourable background that Ipswich Borough Council is battling to reduce homelessness and rough sleeping.
I am pleased that we are having some success here.
We have won additional funding which is paying for more emergency beds for people sleeping rough and two extra months opening for the Winter Night Shelter. Latest figures from the Shelter show that 10 people who have stayed a night there have moved out into more permanent accommodation.
The latest autumn rough sleeping counts show that 11 people were sleeping rough in Ipswich compared to a high of 27 in 2016. That is still 11 too many but it is a welcome downward trend.
Of course, we also need to focus on trying to stop people getting on to the streets in the first place. The Council provides help and advice to hundreds of people each year, largely without being noticed, to stop them becoming homeless.
We are also investing more than £2.5million in a new facility to give families safe temporary homes, rather than unsuitable bed and breakfast accommodation. This new unit for up to 40 families should open in late spring.
But, quite often, it feels like we are running to keep still. We need the Government to stop the policies that are pushing more and more people into homelessness and rough sleeping.