Here is our full response to five questions posed by The Maidenhead Advertiser in the run up to the May 2nd elections in 2019. These were distilled down to just 250 words for publication on Thursday 21st March 2019.
What is your approach to homelessness?
tBf’s approach to homelessness is very simple. Regardless of who you are, or your circumstances, you deserve a place to call home.
Homelessness typically affects the most vulnerable people in society, particularly those with mental health challenges who are not able to cope with the normal demands of life; young adults from abusive or traumatic homes; people involved in family breakdown; and individuals and families who fall on hard times. With Windsor being a garrison town, we are particularly aware of the challenges facing some of our veterans. This means that homelessness is not just about rough sleeping but has many guises, including the ‘hidden homeless’, like those sleeping on friend’s sofas. RBWM have a duty to provide for local people who become homeless.
tBf’s approach will be fundamentally different because we believe that all local services should be working together to not only relieve local homelessness but to actually prevent it from occurring in the first place.
This means that we would ensure a fresh and joined up approach in practice, not just in sentiment.
Over the last three years, RBWM has received c£3.3M of government funding for the specific purpose of preventing homelessness, but it appears that only c3% of it has been used on the legal duty set out in the Homelessness Reduction Act, 2017. We believe that this money has been mainly used on temporary accommodation, like bed and breakfast, although there is not much public transparency on exactly how this money was spent. If there is still a surplus, we would ensure this money is properly used and openly communicate what we have spent it on and why.
What is the best way to help rough sleepers in the borough?
Having discussed this with charities and organisations in the Borough currently tackling this issue at the coal-face, they tell us that the first and most essential way to help is to provide safe shelter and holistic ongoing support, including half-way houses and permanent accommodation.
In order to tackle this, we would first undertake a robust count of how many individuals are in need. Whilst a statutory duty, we have been told that the figures quoted by RBWM to Central Government do not chime with the number that our charities and organisations are aware of and currently assisting.
Sue Brett, who founded the charity Foodshare to cook meals for people who are homeless and to run the foodbank, advises that providing a shelter does not have to be expensive. It can be as simple as providing a hall with sleeping bags, shower facilities and hot food. She said, “Living on the streets can be frightening, dangerous, uncomfortable, and intensely boring. It is difficult to get enough sleep to think clearly under this level of stress. It is also challenging to be clean and ‘presentable’, making it almost impossible to get work.”
Sue also told us, “One current Conservative practice is to pay for a one-way tickets out of the Borough to access temporary accommodation, only to refuse to have anything further to do with that individual when they later return, on the grounds they had chosen to leave so are longer residents of the Borough.”
The Brett Foundation is keen to work with tBf to allocate a suitable space, run by local people who are both committed and skilled, to provide shelter for everyone who is homeless locally.
What programmes would you run to help them?
tBf would support the local charity sector to do this work. They understand the need and this would be the most cost-effective for council tax payers, as well as providing familiar faces to those already on the streets. We would engage with the specialist agencies to support our veterans as appropriate, seeking to understand and exceed the provisions of the Armed forces covenant if deliverable.
National guidance suggests collaboration with neighbouring authorities may be useful. We would therefore approach surrounding boroughs to see what the benefits of working together on this issue would be. The current administration’s attacks on the Labour run council in Slough, for example, makes this type of collaboration impossible, to the detriment of the vulnerable.
RBWM currently provides one shelter for the Borough, located in Maidenhead, which has been outsourced to a company called “Look Ahead”, but it can only accommodate eight people.
Nick Roberts, Project Manager of the Windsor Homeless Project (WHP) concurs on the urgent need for a shelter, adding he currently has over 50 volunteers but only access to day-time premises 6 hours a week. “What we need is a permanent space from where the Project can run from, a place where anybody and everybody that is feeling lonely or needs help can come to receive support. In addition, there is an urgent need for a shelter which is available all year round not only during Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP). We are in SWEP now, but it ends next week when 32-35 people will likely be back on the streets of Windsor and Maidenhead”
Council officers tell us they are not actively involved in finding a new home for the WHP at the current time.
The WHP is also keen to collaborate with tBf to solve this issue by finding and resourcing these spaces.
The responsible Cabinet Member, Cllr Michael Airey, confirmed during the last Full Council meeting that he has not spoken to either of these key local charities during his time in office, some 4.5 months all through the winter.
What can be done in terms of housing to prevent them losing accommodation, and what can you do to help those with serious health issues that find themselves without a permanent residence?
One of the key issues is the naïve view that a roof will solve all your problems. It won’t. You need a roof and ongoing support.
The former manager of WHP, Murphy James told us, “When you live on the streets, you are constantly surrounded by people. You will methodically see the same people every day at specific times who will say hi or buy you a coffee, a sandwich or even a beer, but as soon as you are housed, you lose the only connection with society that you had and, without support, this is fundamentally detrimental. A person goes from being ‘street homeless’ to being ‘homed homeless’, not knowing how to fend for themselves. No money but having to pay bills. No contacts but having to furnish a flat. No confidence but needing to reach out to people.”
Currently policies are focused on short-term problems, giving the minimum of help based on threshold targets. Therefore, any future policy would need to ensure that each individual’s needs and challenges are understood and tackled to build trust with them enabling them to re-engage with society. No-one should ‘fall through these threshold gaps’ as they will simply end up back where they started, on the streets. We would seek to find a proper solution to this effective game of snakes and ladders.
tBf is committed to evidence-based policies and would investigate best practice to understand the various options available to getting it right first time as often as possible.
For instance, ‘Housing First’ is a well-known and growing international strategy whereby those who have repeatedly fallen out of accommodation are given a property but surrounded by intensive support in order to break that vicious circle.
Regarding health issues, people who have mental health challenges or who have addictions need different levels of support. Their needs depend on their circumstances. This may be provided by psychologists for trauma, psychiatrists for mental illness and addiction centres where appropriate. We would ensure that where actions fall outside the council’s public health responsibilities, the relevant agencies are aware and supporting these individuals.
What would the borough's homelessness situation look like after a full term of your party running the borough's affairs?
After a full term, we would expect no local person will be in a situation where they have no choice but to sleep on the streets and there will be supportive and resourced places for them to go.
There will be far fewer people who are homeless because we will help them to reintegrate into society and prevent others from becoming homeless in the first place.
We would hope and expect to have cross-party support for these pledges as this will require ongoing support and commitment.