Plan to end rough sleeping within decade

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The government has vowed to end rough sleeping on England’s streets by 2027.

It has promised £100m “to help people turn their lives around”, including support for mental health and addictions, and funding for housing.

Homelessness has been on the rise for the past seven years, with around 4,750 people estimated to be sleeping rough on any given night in England in 2017.

Charities welcomed the plan, but warned that it was “a step forward and not a total fix”.

The Rough Sleeping Strategy, to be announced by Communities Secretary James Brokenshire on Monday, will focus on preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place by offering a range of support.

About £30 million will be spent on mental health help and treatment for substance misuse as part of the proposals, which were developed in conjunction with charities and experts.

This will include training for staff on how to help people affected by the illegal drug Spice – a synthetic cannabinoid that 90-95% of homeless people in Manchester are estimated to use.

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Media captionHilary Burkitt from Shelter on the government’s new plan

In addition, the government will put about £50m towards homes outside London for those who are ready to move on from hostels or refuges.

Rough sleepers will also be helped to access services and accommodation by a network of specialist “navigators”.

It’s not clear how much of the promised £100m is new money.

‘Underlying problems’

Prime Minister Theresa May said: “We recognise this is a complex issue – as well as ensuring people have somewhere to live, we have to deal with underlying problems and ultimately help people turn their lives around.”

Ministers are also expected to review legislation on homelessness and rough sleeping, including the Vagrancy Act – which currently makes it illegal to sleep rough or beg in England and Wales.

“It is simply unacceptable that people have to sleep on the streets and I am determined to make it a thing of the past,” said Mr Brokenshire.

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Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said that there are “complex” factors behind why people become homeless, adding: “No one chooses to be on the streets and I don’t think enough has been done to combat and confront this real challenge of rough sleeping.”

Polly Neate, chief executive of charity Shelter, said: “Let’s be clear, this is a step forward and not a total fix for homelessness.

“We still need to tackle the chronic lack of genuinely affordable homes, deep instability of renting and problems with housing benefit that are leaving so many without a home.”

Seven homelessness charities – Crisis, Homeless Link, National Housing Federation, Shelter, St Basils, St Mungo’s and Thames Reach – who advised ministers on the strategy said in a joint statement that it was “a significant step towards the government’s goal of ending rough sleeping by 2027”.

However, they added that ministers “must also set out bold, cross-departmental plans to tackle the root causes of all forms of homelessness and prevent it from happening in the first place”.

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Media captionA rough sleeper tells the BBC what it’s like on the streets

Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s got to be welcomed that they [the government] are prioritising rough sleeping. They’re particularly prioritising getting people off the streets and dealing with people at immediate risk of rough sleeping. They’re intervening in the right way – more outreach work, mental health support and so on.

“But of course, it’s not tackling the root causes of homelessness and indeed rough sleeping. Which are that we don’t have enough social houses, we have a welfare system which doesn’t cover the cost of housing and there are huge groups of people excluded from the system altogether. If we’re serious about ending homelessness and rough sleeping, we need to tackle those as well.”

‘No escape’

Labour shadow housing secretary John Healey described it as “a feeble plan that lacks any urgency to tackle the crisis of rising rough sleeping”.

He added that the next Labour government would end rough sleeping within its first term by making 8,000 homes available to those with a history of sleeping on the streets.

One former rough sleeper, called John, told BBC Breakfast that it felt “impossible” to get off the streets when he was homeless.

“You’re in a circle and you keep going around and around,” said John, whose brother and girlfriend were also rough sleeping at the time. “It feels like there’s no escape out of it.

“You can’t get a job, you don’t have income coming in, you can’t keep yourself clean and hygienic. You can’t sleep. You just deteriorate really.”

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