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'Morally wrong' to let rough sleepers back on the streets

It would be “morally wrong” if rough sleepers housed in Bath and North East Somerset during the lockdown were sent back onto the streets, a local councillor has said. 

Council leaders, charities and housing association Curo were collaborating before the coronavirus crisis and the Government ordered authorities to get everyone off the street, but now the partnership is even stronger and has been able to work in ways that are not normally possible. 

Their focus now is ensuring nobody returns or is new to the street, everyone gets the support they need to keep their accommodation, and there is no return to “business as usual”. 

Bath and North East Somerset Council deputy leader Richard Samuel said: “It’s inconceivable that we would simply put the rough sleepers back onto the streets. We will have to find them permanent accommodation. 

“It would be morally completely wrong to put them out on the streets. For some rough sleepers it’s the first time they’ve had a permanent home. I hope we will be working with these people and talking to them about a secure future. 

“When you have a home it unlocks a lot of other things like access to employment. 

“The problem is going to be there’s always incredible pressure on waiting lists to allocate housing. When you introduce 30 individuals who don’t score that as highly as families it’s difficult to find accommodation. 

“In some ways it’s a really nice challenge to have to overcome.”

The council worked with Julian House, DHI, the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership  and Curo on a workable plan to get very vulnerable people off the street in a sustainable way. 

Cecil Weir, the fundraising and PR director at Julian House, said: “The success of that approach meant that 40 bed spaces could be found and fitted out in an amazingly tight timescale. 

“All the clients housed are being given one-to-one support from Julian House support workers, assessing people’s immediate and longer term needs and, where possible, moving residents on into more sustainable, long term accommodation.  

“This is one of the positives that has come out of this emergency – work that often takes weeks or months when supporting clients on the street is happening much quicker now that more accommodation has been made available.

“Long term, sustainable accommodation is key to eradicating rough sleeping. Our Housing First partnership with Curo and DHI has made a demonstrable difference to some of the most vulnerable, entrenched rough sleepers in Bath and North East Somerset.

“There have been many positives from this emergency solution to rough seeing. In an ideal world it would be great to build on that and potentially make a massive impact on rough sleeping, not just in Bath and North East Somerset but across the UK, permanently. 

“We have seen huge changes in people whose mental health has improved, drug use has reduced and complete abstinence has been achieved.  

“We have seen particular differences in the lives of couples and women who have been living on the street on, and off, for many years. People have been able to think about their aspirations in the long term, not just surviving that day. It has been life saving.” 

A spokesperson for Curo said: “Alongside providing somewhere safe to call home, the extensive wraparound support we offer with our partners helps people who’ve been homeless to get their lives back on track, to live independently and to succeed in life.

“Since the lockdown, across our region we have made 98 emergency lets for people, including 23 lettings to people who have either been homeless or in unsafe or unstable accommodation.”

By Stephen Sumner, local democracy reporting partnership

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