Colchester: Task force to tackle rising homelessness as number of rough sleepers triples in three years
- Credit: PA
Work to tackle entrenched homelessness in Colchester will significantly be stepped up after it emerged the number of rough sleepers in the town has tripled in three years.
A multi-agency task force has been drawn up to help vulnerable people living on the streets reconnect with society and lifestyles they may have been forced to abandon.
The five-year plan set out by Colchester Borough Council will help homeless people find suitable accommodation; overcome mental health, alcohol and drug problems; and end a cycle of crime.
The new initiative was last night backed by Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell, who also claimed rough sleepers were “migrating” to the town because of its growing reputation of providing services which turn around the lives of vulnerable people.
It comes as figures from Colchester’s Draft Homelessness Strategy 2014 – 2019, published by the borough council, found the number of rough sleepers across the town has increased from 10 in 2010 to 35 in 2013.
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Tina Bourne, cabinet member for housing at Colchester Borough Council, said this was an “honest reflection” as people had been found living in rural areas such as woodland in addition to town centre streets.
Nationally, homelessness has risen for the past three years, while almost one in 10 people have experienced homelessness.
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Sir Bob said: “Because Colchester has a proud record of providing assistance for homeless people, we are a place that homeless people migrate to because we have an excellent night shelter for homeless people.
“If a community does not provide accommodation for people, then a community like Colchester will be a focal point for homeless people to go to.”
He said homelessness was a consequence of the failure of successive governments over the last 30 years to build sufficient low-cost houses in the public sector.
“We need more affordable housing, but at least this Coalition government is building more social houses,” he added.
“One homeless person is one too many and we need to ensure that the greater problem of families in desperate needs is uppermost in our minds.”
The Colchester Emergency Night Shelter in Alexandra Road and a Shelter site in Crouch Street provide emergency housing.
Mrs Bourne said a holistic approach involving multiple agencies including the Probation Service – to prevent rough sleepers from “lapsing back” into a life of crime – mental health, alcohol and drug support groups, homeless centres and housing associations will work with the council to tackle homelessness.
She said: “Long-term entrenched rough sleepers need guidance and practical, long-term solutions. We feel a comprehensive multi-agency approach backed up by action will prevent homelessness and support prevention work.
“We need to reconnect them to society – reconnect them to a lifestyle they may have totally dropped out of – with structure and that takes a lot of support.
“We will provide them with the information they need to get into the right frame of mind so they can apply for sensible housing. Just providing them with a house is not going to sort out their property issues. They may not be able to afford the tenancy.
“We will also be working with the Department for Work and Pensions. Some rough sleepers may qualify for benefits but cannot get them because they do not have a bank account for example.”
Councillors will meet every month to discuss the progress being made.