Combating Homelessness

Happy New Year! A new year brings new opportunities to make a positive difference in our community. As regular readers will know I am determined to eradicate homelessness and have worked hard to ensure that resources are available to enable this to happen. 

Since my early twenties, when I lived and worked in New York, and was so shocked to see people sleeping rough in one of the wealthiest cities in the world, I have been actively involved in tackling this issue. During my time in America, I volunteered in a shelter for homeless men. My voluntary work continued in London and Truro, with the Truro Homeless Action Group. 

I believe that everyone should have a decent, warm and affordable home. Since being elected in 2010, I have been working with Government Ministers, Cornwall Council and local organisations that work with rough sleepers and homeless people to enable us to tackle this issue. 

It all started with making sure that, as far as possible, we have the correct information about the number of rough sleepers. The Government has made improvements to enable people undertaking the rough sleepers count to build up a clearer picture of the scale of the problem. I joined those undertaking the count here and we were able to find many more people than the previous system enabled. This information led to Cornwall Council realising the scale of the problem and more funding from the Government. 

While more money is important, it’s just as important to spend it wisely. Resolving the complex challenges people face requires team work from our public services and support from our community. So I am pleased that new legislation and guidance, that I helped shape, is also enabling this to happen. Sharing what works from around the country is also important. 

I am now seeing much improved collaboration and coordination of local services and that is beginning to make a significant and sustained positive difference. 

Cornwall Council has a Rough Sleeping Reduction Strategy and with the Government’s Rough Sleepers Initiative funding, Cornwall Council, Cornwall Housing Ltd and partners like St Petroc’s, Addaction and Coastline Housing are making continued efforts to reduce the incidence of rough sleeping in Cornwall.  

Cornwall reported a 31% reduction in its estimate of the incidence of rough sleeping over the year to November 2017. This year’s count has recently taken place and validation of the numbers of rough sleepers is awaited. I very much hope we continue to see a reduction.  

While we are making progress, I know that there is more to do. If you see someone rough sleeping call 01872 264153 as help is available. Over the Winter there will be a number of services operating across Cornwall to support rough sleepers. St Petroc’s Temporary Night Shelter will operate until 18 February providing 17 spaces. A ‘pop up’ temporary night shelter at the Breadline Centre, Penzance opened on the 5 November 2018 and will provide 8-10 spaces until 18 February too. 

Coastline Housing has provided an additional 6 crisis bed spaces which opened on 16 October 2018. This means there are now 18 night spaces which will remain available until the opening of new Crisis Accommodation at Heartlands in April. Furthermore, Coastline are providing two additional Assistive Street Outreach workers to ensure rough sleepers can be identified and assessed as quickly as possible. 

In addition, the Council is introducing further schemes to assist rough sleepers. The Private Landlord Incentive scheme encourages landlords to rent to former rough sleepers by mitigating the perceived risk of taking them as tenants through increased deposits, an additional 10% of LHA payment, limited void cover and a point of contact if problems arise. The Short Term Accommodation Resettlement (STAR) scheme is providing additional accommodation with support for rough sleepers before they move on to settled housing. 

All of this work is supported by a small army of volunteers who support St Petroc’s, Addaction, Coastline Housing, Truro Homeless Action Group and many churches and local organisations who provide practical and emotional support for members of our community. Thank you to everyone who makes a contribution to help the most vulnerable people in our community. Together, I am sure we can end rough sleeping and homelessness. 

First published in the Falmouth Wave January edition

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Tackling Homelessness

Several local residents have contacted me about people rough sleeping on Old Railway Walk from Newham to County Hall and Coosebean/Comprigney to Newmills. As regular readers will know I am determined to eradicate homelessness and have worked hard to ensure that resources are available to enable this to happen.  

I have raised my concerns and those of residents with the Chief Executive of Cornwall Council and have been assured action is being taken to help. 

Cornwall Housing Limited has contacted the St Petroc’s Assertive Street Outreach and the Anti-Social Behaviour Team and has raised my concerns with the Cornwall Rough Sleeping Operational Group (CRSOG) and Safer Cornwall Truro Operational Group. 

St Petroc’s have provided assurances that they regularly visit these areas. The individual at Comprigney Fields and the individuals currently at Newham are known to them and are generally engaging with services at either their Truro Resource Centre or the Outreach Team. Cornwall Housing’s Rough Sleeping Link worker is also working with those who wish to engage to find a solution to their rough sleeping and I can confirm that these site visits and works to engage with the rough sleepers will continue. 

The Chief Executive of Cornwall Council confirmed that through the Cornwall Rough Sleeping Reduction Strategy and the Government’s Rough Sleepers Initiative funding, Cornwall Council, Cornwall Housing Ltd. and partners are making continued efforts to reduce the incidence of rough sleeping in Cornwall. Cornwall reported a 31% reduction in its estimate of the incidence of rough sleeping over the year to November 2017. 

If you see someone rough sleeping call 01872 264153 as help is available. 

Over the Christmas period there will be a number of services operating across Cornwall to support rough sleepers. St Petroc’s Temporary Night Shelter will operate from 17 December 2018 until 18 February 2019 providing 17 spaces. A ‘pop up’ temporary night shelter at the Breadline Centre, Penzance opened on the 5 November 2018 and will provide 8-10 spaces until 18 February 2019.  

Coastline Housing has provided an additional 6 crisis bed spaces which opened on 16 October 2018. This means there are now 18 night spaces which will remain available until the opening of new Crisis Accommodation at Heartlands in April 2019. Furthermore, Coastline are providing two additional Assertive Street Outreach workers to ensure rough sleepers can be identified and assessed as quickly as possible.  

In addition, the Council is introducing further schemes to assist rough sleepers. The Private Landlord Incentive scheme encourages landlords to rent to former rough sleepers by mitigating the perceived risk of taking them as tenants through increased deposits, an additional 10% of LHA payment, limited void cover and a point of contact if problems arise. 

The Short Term Accommodation Resettlement (STAR) scheme is providing additional accommodation with support for rough sleepers before they move on to settled housing. 

Finally, thank you to the small army of volunteers who support St Petroc’s, Addaction and Coastline Housing.  

First published in the West Briton 13/12/18

Helping the homeless in Cornwall

We cannot accept rough sleeping as a stubborn problem that will always be with us. That’s why we are providing over £1 billion of funding, supporting those who are homeless and rough sleeping and bringing in the most ambitious legislation in decades that will mean people get the support they need earlier.

Tackling homelessness is complex, but no one should ever have to sleep rough. I have spent most of my adult life volunteering with organisations supporting homeless people and very much support St Petroc’s campaign to end homelessness in Cornwall.

I am pleased that this newspaper has done so much to raise awareness of the challenges faced by homeless people. Local residents have kindly provided a huge amount of help.

Using the additional Government funding that I helped secure for Cornwall Council, work started last summer with multiple publicly funded agencies, charities and housing providers from across the county joining forces on the Rough Sleeping Reduction Strategy, to help stop homelessness in the first place, help get rough sleepers into housing and provide support to keep rough sleepers off the streets permanently.

As a result of much improved team work there are fewer people rough sleeping in Cornwall than last year. Out of all of the local authority areas in the country, Cornwall showed the biggest reduction in rough sleepers. In November 2016 there were reported to be 99 people sleeping on the streets and by November 2017 that figure had been cut to 68.

There is still so much more that needs to be done. I am pleased that leading experts from homelessness charities, housing and local government met for the first time last week as part of the government’s new rough sleeping advisory panel and committed to work together to help eliminate rough sleeping within a decade.

The new panel chaired by Homelessness Minister, Heather Wheeler, will help develop the national rough sleeping strategy to halve rough sleeping over the course of the Parliament and eliminate it altogether by 2027.

Made up of experts, charities and local government, including from Cornwall Housing, the panel will draw on their considerable experience and individual successes to support the Ministerial Taskforce. This will bring together ministers from key departments to provide a cross-government approach to preventing rough sleeping and homelessness.

The government’s determined, more holistic and joined up approach, as well as new investment is making a positive difference that will end this stubborn problem.

First published in the West Briton 08/02/18

Tackling the issue of homelessness in Cornwall

Since my early twenties I have volunteered with charities that provide support for homeless people, providing shelter, food and company. I remain clear that one person without a home is one too many and the Government remains committed to do more to prevent people becoming homelessness in the first place.

The revised statutory Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities has been published this week. The statutory guidance sets out the steps that local authorities should take into account when providing support to people who are homeless and plans to update the current Homelessness Code of Guidance. In consultation with local authorities and the homeless sector the current guidance has been reviewed to cover the new duties created by the Homelessness Reduction Act whilst also streamlining the information on existing law.

The Act is the most ambitious legislative reform in decades and will ensure that more people get the help they need earlier to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place. However, the Act is just one element of our ambitious programme to fundamentally reform the response to homelessness, putting prevention at the heart of this approach.

We’ve allocated over £950 million until 2020 to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. Cornwall Council is receiving dedicated homelessness prevention funding and Ocean Housing funding for new dedicated accommodation for people rough sleeping here.

Cornwall Council will be receiving £697,152 between now and 2020 to fund the administrative costs of the additional new duties contained within the Act. Cornwall Council will also be receiving its share of £3 million to support them in upgrading their data systems to monitor the impact of the Homelessness Reduction Act.

But we know there is more to do. That is why are aiming to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminate it altogether by 2027.

First published in the West Briton

Antisocial behaviour in Truro

So another week passes and the people sleeping rough in Truro have not received the help they need. Antisocial behaviour has escalated into a stabbing. What have these unlinked but totally unacceptable incidents got in common? Cornwall Council’s lack of grip and getting their priorities right.

During the same week that Cornwall Council leaders are defending spending more than £500,000 on a risky bid for Truro to be the EU Capital of Culture in 2023, without even securing agreement from the Mayor, a fellow LibDem Cornwall Councillor.

We all support investment in Cornish culture and tourism. Record numbers of tourists visited last year with even more anticipated. Additional investment from the Government since 2010 is significant, £750,000 for the Cornish language alone. Last week, another £100,000 was announced to start a Cornish Culture Fund.

Yes, Cornwall Council is having to make savings, like most other public services, to deal with the record national debt racked up by the last Labour government but that does not excuse them. All elected representatives have to make tough choices, but the LibDems who are the largest group of councillors are failing some of the most vulnerable people in Cornwall, as well as everyone else effected by the resulting criminal activity.

Amongst other things, disproportionate cuts to Cornwall Council’s ‘Supporting People’ funding that helps vulnerable people sustain their tenancies in private and social rented homes have contributed to the present homelessness and anti social behaviour.

So come on Cornwall Council, get your priorities right, stop wasting money and don’t further cutting services that could prevent rough sleeping and crime in Truro. If you really want to help Truro, reverse the planned cuts to Supporting People and spend your considerable resources working more effectively with partners including the Police and NHS to keep people safe.

Tackling Homelessness in Truro

Last week I met with the primary local agencies that have the responsibility of tackling the antisocial and criminal behaviour of a small group of people camped out in the centre of Truro.

This has been going on for too long. Last Autumn, I welcomed the Mayor of Truro’s initiative of getting all the organisations that have the resources to help rough-sleepers and tackle people committing antisocial behaviour, including street drinking, around the same table to develop a coordinated action plan. There are lessons to be learned from other places where effective partnerships have tackled similar problems, so I provided information and details of additional funding opportunities.

Keeping the city centre safe and an enjoyable place for all members of our community is not the sole responsibility of our local Police, it requires effective partnership working between Cornwall Council, our local NHS, local businesses and the wider civil society of Truro.

I am frustrated that the problems people have been facing for months now have yet to resolved. There has been progress but there remains a small group of people, who I am told are refusing help and continuing their anti social behaviour. St Petroc’s are offering support in their Truro night shelter.

In order for the Police to take further action, to secure prosecutions for anti social behaviour, they need more people who have experienced or witnessed the anti social behaviour to come forward and tell them about it. People convicted of committing antisocial behaviour crimes who have alcohol or drug abuse problems can have their punishment linked to participation in therapeutic activities to reduce this harm to themselves and society.

You can email the Truro Police directly from the Devon and Cornwall website or call 101 or speak to one of the officers on the beat.

First published in the West Briton 11 January 2017

Loneliness at Christmas

As I write this last column of the year, I am looking forward to being with my family, at home in Cornwall for Christmas. For me Christmas is a special time of year and I really enjoy the preparations and sharing the day with as many of my family as can make it.

I also enjoy inviting someone who would otherwise be on their own. It’s a habit I started when I was young and living overseas when I couldn’t afford to make it home. So I recreated the sense of family with others who were also stranded, far from their loved ones. My favourite Christmas away from home was spent cooking a traditional British Christmas lunch, on a very rickety old stove, in the Riverside Church shelter for homeless men in New York City.

Based on my personal experiences over the years, I very much support the Diocese of Truro Christmas appeal for people to consider inviting a neighbour or friend, who might be on their own, to join them for a meal over the Christmas festivities.

I am really pleased that so many local people will be joining community events to share the spirit of Christmas with their friends and neighbours. I hope that if you or someone you know is feeling lonely that you will join the many community events happening in Falmouth and Penryn.

The Salvation Army on Brook Street in Falmouth with be providing a Christmas Day Lunch for the community and homeless at 12.00 noon. There will be a Church Service at 11.00 am and all are welcome to come along. For further details contact Alison Godwin on 01326 314567.

The Winter Night Shelter Cornwall Project (WNSC) will provide night shelters in December and January. Last winter we accommodated 111 rough sleepers and 75 % of these were helped into permanent accommodation as a result of their contact with the service. WNSC could be a life saver for those with no home and also provides companionship and food. The night shelters need a large number of volunteers to make this project a success. Full training and expenses will be given to prepare for this challenging, but always rewarding service to those in most need.

Any support you can give this important work will be gratefully received and if you need any further information please do not hesitate to contact the Diocesan Social Responsibility Officer Andrew Yates on 01872 274351 or e-mail Andrew.yates@truro.anglican.org

or Corinna Langford at St Petroc’s 01872 264153 corinna.langford@stpetrocs.org.uk.

Britain, according to government figures, is the loneliness capital of Europe, but even – or perhaps especially – here, the urge to connect is overwhelming. But I am concerned in this post Brexit Britain that people are feeling less part of our community. Some people tell me that even talking about Brexit has become such a difficult topic of conversation that they have stopped talking to colleagues or friends all together.

It should be possible for all of us to listen to each other respectfully and appreciate and value our differences. Kindness in my opinion is a much undervalued characteristic. Going forward we need to step back from the angry, even hateful public discourse that has been a sad feature of 2016 and commit to reconnecting with each other in 2017. From spending time with people all around my constituency I know that there is much more that unites us than divides us.

As George Monbiot recently wrote in The Guardian, “This reattachment, I believe, holds the key to both our psychological and political transformation. Connected, engaged and happy people do not allow themselves to be trampled into the dirt. It is when we are estranged both from each other and from our political environment that we are easiest to manipulate, as the rise of demagoguery in Europe and the US seems to attest. Without the power of kindness our society will fall apart”

All that remains for me is to wish you a very Happy Christmas. It continues to be both an honour and privilege to serve this community as your MP and I am very much looking forward to continuing my work for you in 2017.

Published by Falmouth Wave Magazine