Wirral Council’s approach to supporting people who don’t have anywhere to live has, for the first time, led to the authority being able to report a zero number of rough sleepers in the area when it took its annual snapshot in November.
Changes to how the Housing Options service works, accompanied by Government directives and financial support during the COVID-19 pandemic have contributed to achieving this outcome. In 2018, Wirral reported 16 rough sleepers and in 2019, there was six.
This is just one of the headlines included in a report, which will shortly go to the Housing Committee about how Wirral tackled homelessness in the face of to the challenges presented by the pandemic.
One of the changes made was the introduction of a ‘triage’ system of assessment in association with providers of accommodation to ensure everyone who needed it was able to be placed in suitable accommodation – hostels, supported housing, private and social rented accommodation or bed and breakfast – quickly.
Since March 2020, this has led to 811 short or longer-term housing placements being made possible and has proved such an effective approach that it will remain the Housing Options team’s way of working for the future around placements.
The ‘Everybody In’ initiative supported the council to get everybody who needed it sheltered during the first wave of the pandemic and further government funding is allowing the council to continue delivering that level of service.
Wirral Council submitted a bid for funding under the Next Steps Accommodation project and was successful in receiving a grant of around £1.2m, representing one of the largest awards in the North of England.
This will allow the council and partners to achieve the following this year:-
- The reconfiguration of several homeless hostels and use of units within additional supported schemes to provide 11 additional ‘Assessment Beds’ for rough sleepers.This will include a fully disabled unit and units which have level access facilities to be flexible to support anyone with mobility issues.
- Support for the development of a Social Lettings Agency, to increase access to private rented accommodation, administered by Wirral Churches Ark Project.
- Enhance and expand Support Staff Teams to work with adults with complex needs.
- The reconfiguration and refurbishment of new and existing supported accommodation to provide 36 units of long-term housing options for homeless people.
The Council was also successful in securing funding of more than £300,000 under the ‘Rough Sleeper Initiative’. This money enabled the development of a ‘mobile’ – or outreach – service that provides purposeful, proactive, and persistent support to get rough sleepers off the streets and into permanent accommodation.
This service is being provided by the YMCA and works throughout the night to encourage rough sleepers to access appropriate accommodation.
A bid to the national Cold Weather Fund was also successful and Wirral is able to draw down £80,000 to further support the range of accommodation solutions for homeless people during the winter months.
Cllr Julie McManus, Chair of the Housing Committee, said: “The challenges faced by council teams and their partners during the pandemic have been enormous and they have risen to them amazingly.
“To put it in context, in more normal times, there will typically be around 30 homeless households placed in temporary or bed and breakfast accommodation at one time. However, at the height of the first wave of the pandemic, three was more than three times that.
“These pressures are ongoing and there remains a high demand for advice and support, with a constant flow of people needing assistance from the council and its partners.”
If you are concerned about someone sleeping rough, send an alert to StreetLink by calling 0300 500 0914, visiting www.streetlink.org.uk or via the mobile app, available for Apple and Android devices.
The details provided by a member of the public are sent to the local authority concerned, so they can help connect the person to local services and support. The person reporting the problem receives details of the action the local authority normally takes when they are told someone is sleeping rough.
StreetLink also contacts the council within ten working days to find out what has happened as a result of the alert and, if requested, provides the person who made the report with an update.
Further information on Wirral’s Housing Options team and telephone numbers for the triage team can be found at https://www.wirral.gov.uk/housing/housing-information-and-advice/housing-advice/preventing-and-dealing-homelessness
Main Image credit: Sardaka, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons