Let’s help the homeless

Today I woke up with nervous anticipation. It is one of the most horrible feelings in the world where you wake up wanting something so much but knowing it is out of your hands and dependent on others. But why was today so important? Was it my birthday? (no – that’s the 14th Nov!) So why?

Well today marked the 2nd reading of the Homeless Reduction Bill and I am absolutely thrilled that it passed through the Commons. Now I fully understand that this doesn’t mean that it is law yet and that the bill then has to go through public bill committee, report stage, third reading and then the Lords but alongside the Government’s commitment to support it on Monday then hopefully given today’s result it will get the backing it needs. 80 MPs (it was good to see Rebecca Harris amongst them) turned up today and supported the Bill because this Bill is needed. This doesn’t mean that homelessness will be vanished forever but this bill does go some way to readdress some of the inequality which is currently enshrined in our law. I am delighted that the lobbying of thousands (including myself, who wrote to all of the MPs) has meant that people can see the importance of this Bill. Indeed the all party Communities and Local Government Select Committee commented this was the `greatest opportunity to significantly reduce homelessness in over 40 years`

What does the Bill say?

The Bill is quite a complicated piece of legislation and so to summarise it in a sentence or two is hard but it will give councils a legal duty to give people meaningful support to resolve their homelessness. It will introduce measures to prevent people becoming homeless in the first place.

It means that people will no longer turned up to a council and be turned away as someone who is not a priority. It will hopefully encourage people to turn to the council for help. An example of this issue is that HARP say that they helped 1100 people last year but only 239 people made an official application for homelessness. This means that a lot of people were deterred from applying to the council. Here is a very typical story of what happens and a story i hear time and time again. I spoke to someone who works in a well known charity who said that their team manager used to work at an Essex council until recently in the housing department and they used to deliberately try to put people off applying as homeless as not only did it improve their figures but that they also could count it as a case of homelessness prevented even if the person walked out with no solutions. This is so wrong.

It will also mean that councils will have longer to carry out the checks needed and find a solution as the definition of those who are threatened with homelessness as it will change from 28 days to 56 days.  I spoke to a councillor at Southend council who said that there was an automatic assumption in Southend that anyone who applied was on the fiddle.  Hopefully given extra time this assumption will fade.

It also means every council has to agree a personalised housing plan which will mean that people will know what the next steps are and have them written down. As an ex teacher I know the value of individual education plans and so welcome this particularly.

Amongst other things it also means that councils will have to give a Section 184 to those who formally apply which explains the decision the council has made. As http://www.eden.gov.uk/housing/homelessness-and-housing-advice/homelessness-reviews/ says `If you have approached us for homelessness help under Part VII of theHousing Act 1996 (as amended by Homelessness Act 2002), the homeless legislation, by law we must write to tell you about our decision. This is known as a ‘Section 184 Notification’.  Now in Southend as mentioned 239 people made formal applications but only 131 Section 184s were issued. That means in 45% of the cases section 184s were not issued. This is not acceptable.

These are some of the reasons why I think the Bill will impact the number of homeless in Southend. I was pleased to see that Marcus Jones had also promised that the Bill will be fully funded by new money.

In Southend, in the past week we have had 2 rough sleepers stabbed and there has been another 2 stabbings and someone was beaten over their head with a crutch in areas which are very well known to be places where rough sleepers hang out. They are extremely vulnerable. We need to look after the rough sleepers and living in a society where homeless are turned away is not acceptable. As i said on the phone to the Echo and here the best way to protect the rough sleepers is for them not to be on the streets in the first place. We all have roofs over our heads which on the whole (I accept in cases of domestic violence etc that this doesn’t apply) means a place of security and safety. For the first time in 40 years our MPs have taken huge steps forwards to affording these rights to those who have fallen on hard times.

James Duddridge’s response to the Homeless reduction Bill

Dear Resident,
Thank you for contacting me regarding the Homelessness Reduction Bill.

Every person sleeping rough is a tragedy and I am glad that the Government is working hard to reduce homelessness. Homelessness acceptances are now less than half of what they were during their peak in 2003-04 under the previous Labour Government.

Councils have a duty to provide advice on homelessness to anyone seeking help and they will take steps to prevent homelessness wherever possible. Since 2010, councils have prevented over 1 million households from becoming homeless and the Government is now protecting homelessness prevention for councils. This will total £315 million by 2020. It has also increased central funding to tackle homelessness to £139 million over the next four years. This includes targeted funding for rough sleeping.

I have been assured by my ministerial colleagues that the Government is considering a broad range of options, including legislation, to prevent more people from becoming homeless. The report by the Crisis Expert Panel, to which St Mungo’s contributed, has been welcomed by the Government. It provides a valuable insight into how aspects of the current legislation in England can be updated in light of the models adopted in Scotland and Wales.

The Homelessness Reduction Bill, introduced by my colleague Bob Blackman, has not yet been published but I look forward to examining the contents of the Bill in due course.

I am committed to tackling homelessness and I am glad that this is an issue which the Government is taking seriously. In the last parliament over £500 million was provided to councils and charities to tackle homelessness and central Government funding is now increasing to reduce homelessness further. I welcome the Communities and Local Government Select Committee report and I am determined that we should act to prevent homelessness as far as possible. As you mention, the Government is considering a range of option such as legislation to tackle this issue and I will consider the contents of the Bill once it has been published.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Yours sincerely
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James Duddridge MP
 

How can rough sleepers best be protected?

This was a question put to me by reporters from the Echo today. They were ringing me in connection with the fact that 2 rough sleepers have been stabbed in the past 4 days here in Southend. (2 very good blog posts on the subject can be found here –  a very well written piece – and here) I explained that as a Street Pastor I had witnessed rough sleepers being punched, kicked, verbally attacked, urinated on whilst they were sleeping, been human trafficked, stabbed and even one Autumn where someone was going round giving out bottles of poisoned water to the rough sleepers.  They are in a very vulnerable position and need our protection.

I  was asked today at church if the Winter night shelters would open early to get them off the street to which i said they are unlikely to be in a viable state at the moment and that the night shelters are only a temporary measure to get rough sleepers through the coldest months and shouldn’t be seen as a long term solution.

The Echo reporter suggested the police could look after them but if you ask the police, they are doing that already and Operation Zest and moving them on from the High Street is for their safety ( no comment – ed). But they are stretched and have limited resources.

I pressed home the fact that the easiest way to protect rough sleepers is to make sure they aren’t out on the streets in the first place. we all have houses which for the whole bring security and shelter not afforded to those on the street and so we need to be doing more to ensure that people arent on the street in the first place.

Bearing that in mind I was thrilled that the government today announced their backing of the Homeless reduction Bill ( details of the Bill can be found at http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/homelessnessreduction.html) Friday is a key date with the 2nd reading of the Bill. We need 100 MPs to attend and as you can see from the responses i have recieved and am aware of, we are still about 5 short.

One (though not the only thing) thing we can do is pray. I have emailed a lot of the church prayer chains this morning in order to pray for protection but also that the Bill passes through on Friday.

Keep our homeless friends in your thoughts in this trying period.