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.

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