No second night out on the streets for homeless people
As a new homelessness campaign gets under way, Newcastle City Council’s Housing and Welfare Rights Services Manager Neil Munslow MBE, looks at the problem in Newcastle.
We’ve worked hard to make sure that as few people as possible end up sleeping on our city’s streets.
We’ve built up a great reputation preventing homelessness and its causes. We have reinvented and improved systems, joined up the dots between agencies and the council is recognised for the support it gives to the 3,500 people at risk of homeless that it helps each year.
Ideas and services that we were amongst the first to adopt are now commonplace in other big cities across the UK.
This was recognised when we were made the Government’s Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Champions.
But we still have a small ‘core’ of people who are our persistent homeless, people who have been thrown out of every hostel, who are often addicted to drugs or alcohol and are our most ‘difficult’ customers.
Sometimes it’s difficult for people like you or I to grasp the variety of complex problems suffered by people like this.
To many of us, their chaotic lives might seem like a self induced living nightmare. In reality, people are just locked into a desperate way of life that they can’t get out of.
That’s why we work with people like the Cyrenians and Tyne Housing to reach out to the most excluded people in our society.
Many of the people who work with them are former street sleepers themselves, so they know what it is like not to have a place to call home. They also know what it takes to regain the trust of someone who has lost their faith in society.
Not everyone has such extreme needs, many of the people who use the council’s homelessness services are families and individuals who have simply fallen on hard times, evicted by a private landlord who has finally lost patience, or asked to leave by a parent after an argument.
The tipping points into crisis can be common to all of us, divorce, illness, unemployment, disability or the loss of a loved one.
We see people at their most vulnerable and like many other areas of the council we are under financial stress. We know the numbers of people using our services are likely to increase as the recession continues to bite. They may have to deal with fewer face-to-face staff, longer queues and greater frustration.
But Newcastle has not built up its reputation in housing and financial inclusion through staffing levels alone. We believe that we have to help people respond to crisis by joining up services and responding by reducing duplication and helping people to make the right choices to sustain their homes.
For example, we have worked closely with Your Homes Newcastle to provide support to reduce evictions from council properties. By doing this we avoid the expense, the confrontation and the pain of eviction.
We make sure the rent still gets paid and a family gets to stay in a community they know and trust and stay out of expensive and demeaning bed and breakfast accommodation.
It’s all about thinking smarter and tackling problems ‘down stream’.
However, we also need help from you and that’s where No Second Night Out will come in useful.
Although our numbers of rough sleepers are small, we cannot be everywhere at once.
That’s why we need eyes and ears on the streets and that’s why campaigns like No Second Night Out, which includes a number people, can dial if they see someone sleeping rough, can really make a difference.
This is the beginning of a more open dialogue between the council and people in the community who want to help to stop rough sleeping. We will provide feedback on what happens when someone reports a rough sleeper but, because it wouldn’t be right for us to share someone’s personal information, we won’t always be able to tell you exactly why the person appears to be sleeping rough.
In the vast majority of cases in Newcastle the reason people sleep tough is not a simple lack of accommodation. It is because of other problems that are less likely to engender sympathy.
The people who beg on Northumberland Street know they are likely to get better results if they ask for money because they’re homeless rather than for heroin. This is why Northumbria Police recently ran their Killing with Kindness campaign, which we supported, to encourage people to give to charities that support the homeless rather than to beggars.
We need to make sure no-one in our city spends a second night on our streets. It won’t be easy but we welcome your support to help those who are at their lowest ebb.
You can find out more information about No Second Night Out at www.nosecondnightout.org.uk.