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Why nobody need be homeless in Newcastle

December 9, 2014

What is your first instinct when you see someone on the street with a sign that says “please help me – hungry and homeless?” Do you offer to help? Leave it to someone else? Or do you let them help themselves? What if this was you or your child? Why does this happen in modern Britain? And what could be done to prevent this?

The compassionate reaction is to want to give the person some money or maybe even a coat or a sleeping bag. However, we have found that a longer-term partnership approach is far more effective.

The Homelessness Act 2002 requires councils and its local partners to come up with a clear strategy for homelessness prevention. It compelled councils to consider homelessness as more than a simple housing supply problem; it made us ask why some people face a greater risk of homelessness than others and to examine the root causes, the risks involved, and the possible solutions.

We see no reason why anybody should be homeless in Newcastle. I think we have done extremely well preventing homelessness in our city. I touched on this in my blog in January entitled ‘fighting the scourge of homelessness’, and we have the figures to back this up:

• The council and its partners have reduced statutory homelessness by 80% since 2003
• Not since 2006 have we relied on B&Bs as emergency accommodation
• The number of evictions by Your Homes Newcastle has reduced 50% since 2008

Partnership working is at the heart of our approach to preventing homelessness – a fact recognised by the previous government, who made us their Homelessness Champions in 2008 and Rough Sleeping Champions in 2009.

In 2013, an independent report by Heriot-Watt and Northumbria University found that our homelessness prevention work – particularly YHN’s – was ‘highly effective’. The big challenge now is to maintain this track record in the face of the largest ever disproportionally high public sector cuts, by working closely with our partners to ensure we make fair choices for tough times.

Funding for people at risk of homelessness was cut by 24% in 2014-15 but organisations in Newcastle have worked closely with our commissioning team to make the most of the funding available. Despite these cuts, the council has retained a budget of £5.5 million to commission local services to prevent and respond to homelessness – providing a daily outreach service to find and help rough sleepers; 832 units of accommodation; and flexible support for up to 1,081 people to help them to sustain their independence. These local services also secure an additional £10 million per year from other sources.

I know that when you see people asking for money on the street, because they are homeless, it might look as though the council and local charities aren’t spending that money wisely or aren’t doing enough to help.

The dilemma homelessness services face is what to do when people aren’t ready to change their anti-social behaviour. In Newcastle, we think we’ve got the balance of fairness right and that the services we provide create the right conditions for people to change. Whilst we don’t give up on people, that doesn’t mean that ‘anything goes’ and that people don’t have to take any personal responsibility.

This is just a glimpse of the work that’s going on in the city to help everyone enjoy good wellbeing and health. It includes the recent winning of up to £2 million by a partnership bid led by Home Group, from the Fair Chance Fund, to help young homeless people into work; Tyne Housing’s 42 new flats in the Ouseburn Valley; a bid by Changing Lives to secure £5.5m from the Big Lottery Fund to tackle complex needs; and the wonderful compassion shown every day by the volunteers at the People’s Kitchen.

We are doing our best to make fair choices to help people cope in tough times. There aren’t enough hours in the day to talk about all the good work that goes on in our city – but if you want to know more about volunteering, or how to donate to homelessness charities, please contact activeinclusion@newcastle.gov.uk.

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