38 Degrees | ECC’s plans for Rough Sleepers in freezing conditions

I, and many other Councillors have been contacted by residents via the 38 Degrees campaign regarding rough sleeping in current freezing conditions.

Tonight, people without a home may need to sleep out in the freezing cold, desperately trying to keep warm on the street. It’ll be below zero – and that might mean not waking up in the morning.

When the weather gets this cold, local councils are meant to activate an emergency plan to find people sleeping rough and get them into the warm. Some councils are moving fast to save lives. But others may be dragging their heels instead of working quickly to find the people in danger.

If your local councillors aren’t doing much, lots of emails from 38 Degrees members asking about the emergency plan could be the kick they need to start making urgent phone calls.

This has prompted several e-mails along the lines of:

Hundreds of people with no home are facing another night out in the bitter cold. As my councillor can you let me know what plans you have in place to get homeless people off the freezing streets? 

I know that an emergency plan is meant to be activated to find people sleeping rough and get them into the warm, so I just wanted to check exactly what was being done. 

Please act quickly to make sure no one has to sleep on a freezing dark street again tonight.

This is my usual response:

Many thanks for your e-mail.

As a fellow supporter of many 38Degrees campaigns I am well aware of the immense impact these sorts of mailing campaigns achieve.

I share your concerns, not least because of the recent tragic death of Michelle Conroy in Exeter.

The staff in the Housing Team at Exeter City Council work in partnership with a number of different agencies and charities to assist people sleeping rough in the city.

I attended a recent briefing for councillors on the wide range of interventions we can provide.

Exeter is signed up to the No Second Night Out Campaign. The number to alert the authorities to someone sleeping rough is 0800 151 3441. I and a number of the councillors who attended the briefing have this programmed into our phones.

I am happy to advise you that here in Exeter, the City Council have the following accommodation provision in place during the severe weather.
– 7 Bed spaces at Gabriel House, which is our main hostel
– 9 bed spaces at St Petrocks, which is the roughsleeper day centre on Cathedral Green
– 3 bed spaces for women at the Esther Community

All of these spaces are funded by the City Council jointly with our partners to make sure no-one is left outside.

We are also providing temporary accommodation to 4 individuals whose needs are not able to be met at the accommodation set out above.

The Street Homeless Outreach Team [SHOT] have been working closely with St Petrocks, the city’s soup kitchens and churches to contact anyone new to the street so they don’t have to stay out.

I can assure you that no-one needs to be outside in this weather.

Having said that there are a smmall number of people with what can only be described as chaotic lifestyles who will not necessarily readily accept offers of help. This doesn’t stop us trying but we cannot force someone to take up an offer of accommodation.However we continue to make offers every day to urge them to come inside.

This is an extract from the City Council’s Housing Manager in reply to a similar question asked a few weeks ago. I hope that this helps to re-assure you.

Firstly, we operate a Winter Weather protocol which makes sure that accommodation is available to all rough sleepers in temperatures of zero or below. We provide this in partnership with the voluntary sector by opening up additional bed spaces in the city. Following the recent tragic events we have decided to extend that provision to cover all severe weather conditions and not just cold weather.

Secondly, the longer term issue is becoming increasingly challenging with homelessness increasing both in the city and nationally.

Exeter is the lead authority for Devon and Cornwall in implementing the No Second Night agenda which is being promoted by Central Government. As part of this commitment we respond to all reports of rough sleeping within 48 hours (in reality this is within 12 hours). Contact is made and an offer of accommodation is made where appropriate; however it may not always be appropriate if the person has had accommodation which they have been asked to leave or if they choose to remain sleeping rough.

We are looking at additional accommodation options to meet the increasing demand, and these need to be planned in partnership to make sure support is available to accompany the housing offer. We are also strengthening our reconnections service where people have come to Exeter from other parts of the country to seek housing and we can then help them to safely return to the place they have left by working with the city’s soup kitchens to reach people as soon as they come to the city.

We have also committed additional resources, in partnership with Devon County Council, to an individual budgets approach to working with very entrenched rough sleepers where a really creative approach is required as all other offers of accommodation have failed or been refused.

If you would like to know more about the service we provide please click on the following link: http://www.exeter.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=14429

We are hoping that our other housing initiatves will help deal with other aspects of homelessness, such as sofa surfing and with luck assist those under threat of future homelessness. An axample of such a move was discussed at an Executive Committee meeting on Monday.

Reports presented to the meeting can be seen at:
http://committees.exeter.gov.uk/documents/g3310/Public%20reports%20pack%2022nd-Jan-2013%2017.30%20Executive.pdf?T=10

The decisions taken by the Executive can be seen here:
http://committees.exeter.gov.uk/documents/g3310/Decisions%2022nd-Jan-2013%2017.30%20Executive.pdf?T=2

I will endeavour to ensure we remain pro-active in all aspects of homelessness

I hope this  provides you with the reassurance you need, and many thanks for your interest in this area.

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