How Croydon is tackling rough sleeping

Over one quarter (27%) of all people sleeping rough in the UK are in London. Pic: Nick Fewings. 

Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Lewisham and Croydon councils have received government grants of over £1m to tackle rough sleeping, Croydon receiving the highest sum of £1.76m.

This funding is part of a £ 203million investment from the government’s Rough Sleeping Initiative, which provides accommodation and health support for rough sleepers. 

According to a statement, the funding will be allocated to councils across England and will support projects such as shelters, specialist mental health or addiction services, and targeted support to help rough sleepers off the streets for good.

It will be used by councils, charities and other local groups to fund up to 14,500 bed spaces and 2,700 support staff across England.

This funding is part of a £750 million investment this year to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. Now in its fourth year, the government says its Rough Sleeping Initiative has reduced rough sleeping by almost a third compared to areas that haven’t taken part in the programme. 

The Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “At the beginning of the pandemic we took swift and decisive action to bring rough sleepers in from the streets and settled them into longer-term accommodation in record numbers. That work continues, the results are clear and are a huge credit to all involved…

“To build on this progress, we are making the biggest ever investment under the Rough Sleeping Initiative to provide vital services to those who need it most, as part of our drive to end rough sleeping for good.”

But the national charity for homeless people Crisis warned that the funding “will only scratch the surface”.

The latest official count found a total of 2,688 people were estimated to be sleeping rough on a single night in autumn 2020.  This is down by 1,578 people or 37% from last year and down 43% from the peak in 2017, but is up by 920 people or 52% since 2010.

Over one quarter (27%) of all people sleeping rough are in London. Estimates show that there were 714 people sleeping rough in the capital last year, which is down by 422 people or 37% from 2019.

Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of Crisis, welcomed the funding and said efforts over the last year of the coronavirus pandemic to get people off the streets have been “vital”.

“But the number of people helped by this funding will only scratch the surface,” he added.

“For people with multiple support needs who require specialist programmes, like housing first, to help them out of homelessness for good, this announcement falls short.

“Without such sustained support, those helped off the streets today risk returning to them tomorrow.”

He said that long-term solutions where people are supported into safe and permanent homes are needed to end rough sleeping for good. 

Who will this money help?

Croydon has 105 rough sleepers in its streets according to CHAIN, a multi-agency database recording information about rough sleepers and the wider street population in London.

This makes Croydon the second outer borough with the highest number of rough sleepers, being Redbridge at the top with 112, followed by Wandsworth (101) and Hackney and Hillingdon (83).

According to CHAIN, people are counted as having been rough sleeping if they have been encountered by a commissioned outreach worker bedded down on the street, or in other open spaces or locations not designed for habitation, such as doorways, stairwells, parks or derelict buildings. 

Those from “hidden homeless” groups such as those “sofa surfing” or living in squats do not account for these numbers.

How has Croydon been tackling rough sleeping?

Between November and December last year, Croydon council issued a Section 114 notice twice — announcing de facto bankruptcy — after failing to fulfil a legal duty to balance its books.

Despite worries about the consequences of the council’s financial collapse on its homeless, Croydon council is believed by local charity workers to have worked effectively to support the borough’s most vulnerable. 

Jad Adams, the long-standing chair of Croydon Nightwatch, a charity founded by members of the community concerned about homelessness, said: “We have a good network of support for homeless people in Croydon, shared between volunteer organisations like ours, the council and ‘voluntary organisations’ which are paid to take on the council’s statutory duties.

“We worked together over the Covid crisis to get street homeless people indoors, according to the government’s ‘ Everybody In’ plan.”

Hotels in Croydon, including Gilroy Court Hotel and Croydon Park Hotel, which would have been closed because of lockdown, took in people who would otherwise be sleeping out, following a government edit to local authorities to use public buildings to ensure all those sleeping on the street were to be provided with accommodation. 

Adams said: “We supplied food for them from our stores. Council officers worked very hard to coordinate this operation. 

“The difficulty came as the ‘Everyone In’ money came to an end and people who had been in hotels still needed accommodation. We are all working to try to get former rough sleepers into a secure place.”

Where will the funding go?

According to a statement, the funding will support the council’s projects with partner organisations to help people off the streets, employ more specialist staff, and offer extra financial support to help former rough sleepers find a place of their own.

Cllr Patricia Hay-Justice, cabinet member for homes, said: “The council’s superb rough sleeping team works with local groups and charities to provide a range of projects to support people off the streets for good.

“This funding means we and our partners will expand the practical and personal help that rough sleepers need, including for some very vulnerable people. It also underlines the confidence that MHCLG [Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government] has in our ability to do this important work.”

Around £395,000 will go to emergency accommodation through the council’s Somewhere Safe to Stay Hub, which is run by charity Evolve Housing + Support and assesses rough sleepers’ financial, medical and housing needs, provides shelter and helps move them onto more stable accommodation.

According to their website, Evolve Housing + Support provides housing to over 1,300 people each year as well as tailored support to meet people’s individual needs – including housing, employment and skills training, mentoring and counselling.

There will be £130,000 for the council’s Housing First project, delivered by Thames Reach, which helps rough sleepers to settle into their own home and offers medical and mental health support. 

The project is based on the principles of Housing First, where homeless people receive accommodation on the condition that they maintain their tenancy. 

Bill Tidnam, Chief Executive at Thames Reach, said: “Housing First in Croydon is part of a broader range of services that will mean that some of the people experiencing street homelessness in Croydon can move away from the street and rebuild their lives, and we welcome the recent confirmation of central government money into the borough to extend the existing services.  

“Alongside Housing First our street outreach team in Croydon, Croydon Reach, works to find people who are sleeping on the streets of Croydon and to get them into accommodation.”

The project provides 20 people with a flat, supported by a Thames Reach key worker who helps the tenant access health, benefits or employment services.

Approximately £322,000 will be used to fund the council’s specialist staff responsible for giving support to rough sleepers, and £150,000 to find more private rented housing for eligible rough sleepers and provide grants to help them afford these moves.

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