As you know, the subject of rough sleeping in Peterborough has featured in the media over the past few weeks. We thought it would be helpful to set out the facts and provide information about what is being done to address the problem and support people who are rough sleeping into accommodation.
Many towns and cities across the UK have experienced an increase in the number of people rough sleeping. Official government figures for the 2015 rough sleeping count showed that 3,569 people were rough sleeping in England on a single night, up 102% from 2010. It is expected that figures for 2016 will be greater still.
In Peterborough local intelligence, which comes from a number of different sources including support agencies, the police and from conducting a physical rough sleeper count, estimates that there are 21 people sleeping rough. This is up from 15 last year, a 33% increase.
The media recently reported that in Norwich there are 90 people sleeping rough.
The Cambridgeshire sub region is also reporting similar increases; Cambridge City Council identified 40+ rough sleepers on its rough sleeper count in November 2016.
The big difference in Peterborough is that nobody has to sleep rough; everyone who finds themselves homeless has an offer of accommodation. Not every town and city adopts this approach.
Section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824 deems it an offence to sleep rough in the open air, subject to certain conditions. Its use nationally has diminished significantly as the statute is old and the language and definitions contained within it are outdated. Crown Prosecution Service charging standards are stringent, and police nationally must apply proportionality tests when considering its use. Without significant aggravating factors, this power is unlikely to be used and there are recent examples of it being subject to legal challenge. The power has been repealed in Scotland and subject to review in England and Wales.
Where anybody, including people sleeping rough, breach other laws the police locally will take appropriate action using other legislation. For example, one current rough sleeper is subject to a Criminal Behaviour Order and was arrested for breaching this. Over the Christmas period three separate offences perpetrated by rough sleepers were dealt with by the police – a fight, drunk and disorderly behaviour and public indecency.
Local authorities are required to complete an official annual rough sleeper count with the results being submitted to the Department for Communities and Local Government. In Peterborough we adopt an evidence-based approach to our count; we engage daily with rough sleepers across the city and use that data to inform the locations we count during the official process. Other areas continue to use a more randomised model of counting, walking the streets searching for rough sleepers. We believe our method to be a far more accurate reflection of the true picture, albeit a snapshot in time.
Our latest full official estimate was carried out on 4 November 2016 and 21 rough sleepers were identified. This compares to previous years as follows:
The current profile of known rough sleepers in Peterborough is as follows:
- 16 are engaging with services and are accessing, or are about to start accessing, support
- 5 are refusing to engage with services, 4 of whom are known to the police
- 7 of the the 21 are non-UK EU nationals, all of whom have been served with the legal notices to begin their administrative removal from the UK. There is a formal process to follow when seeking to resettle people back to their home country, and we work closely with the UK Border Force (part of the Home Office) as part of this process, who issue the formal notices to individuals
Our intelligence also shows that there are a number of people who present themselves as sleeping rough in Peterborough but have their own secure accommodation to return home to. Some of these people are engaged in begging activity whilst others simply choose to sleep on the streets.
Services and Support
Responsibility for the management of rough sleepers and the support services available to them sits within the Housing Needs department. This team includes a dedicated full-time rough sleeper outreach worker whose sole role is to identify and work with rough sleepers in an attempt to get them off the streets and into appropriate and safe accommodation. The officer works closely with the wider Housing Needs team, as well as with other council departments (e.g. social care) and agencies (e.g. the police and UK Border Force).
Although housing is at a premium, there is no need for anybody to sleep rough in Peterborough. There are a range of services and options that are made available and offered to every rough sleeper, summarised as follows:
- The council has a statutory duty to assess a homelessness application from anyone who is homeless. Those who are considered to be in priority need would be provided with emergency accommodation until a decision was made on their application.
- The council has a statutory duty to provide shelter during prolonged periods of cold weather (defined as being three or more consecutive nights where temperatures are forecast to be below zero degrees Celsius). While the temperatures in Peterborough have not yet satisfied this criteria the council took the decision to open this provision on 20 December. This provision takes the form of a night shelter currently being provided in partnership with Axiom Housing Association.
- In partnership with the Light project, a winter night shelter is running for four months until March 2017, seven nights per week, providing space for around 8 rough sleepers per night.
- Many rough sleepers are struggling with mental health issues or are reliant on drugs or alcohol. We have direct links into appropriate services and the rough sleeper outreach worker frequently accompanies rough sleepers to appointments as part of an organised plan.
- A number of rough sleepers in Peterborough are non-UK EU nationals who are no longer fulfilling their EU treaty obligations to work. Where this is the case we work with appropriate agencies to attempt to resettle individuals back to their home countries. This often involves working with foreign embassies to secure appropriate paperwork and travel documentation.
There is though no mechanism to prevent those rough sleepers who we resettle back to their home counties from returning to the UK and/or Peterborough.
- Rough Sleepers who have a right to reside in the UK but have moved to the area and do not have a local connection will be provided with support to return to an area with which they do have a connection, thus enabling them to access services they will be eligible for in their local area.
The Housing Needs team works closely with the Prevention and Enforcement Service, officers from which accompany the rough sleeper outreach worker on planned walkabouts to help build and share intelligence. Sometimes rough sleepers are not compliant with the law – recent reports for example have included urinating and defecating in public, and committing acts of public indecency. Where this is the case and can be evidenced, the police presence in the Prevention and Enforcement Service will take appropriate action including arrest, detention and charge.
The council is currently consulting on the introduction of a new Public Space Protection Order which will enhance the powers available to all PES officers when dealing with, for example, anti-social behaviour and aggressive begging in the designated areas.
The issuing of a fixed penalty notices to rough sleepers who breach the order acts as a further deterrent to inappropriate behaviour and an incentive for rough sleepers to engage with services and support.
At a national level the government has recognised that the issue of homelessness and rough sleeping requires a different and more focussed approach.
In November, the government published details of £40m funding to support local authorities and other agencies to formulate innovative ideas in order to improve homelessness provision for those who need it.
In the first bidding round, the council submitted a joint bid in partnership with the other Cambridgeshire councils to support the following initiatives:
- Creation of a homelessness prevention hub, which will allow landlords and other agencies to highlight households at potential risk of homelessness. Referrals will be handled by a multidisciplinary team who will work collaboratively (including the client) to formulate action plans in order to prevent their homelessness arising.
- The introduction of a ‘Town Hall Lettings’ initiative, which will work with private sector landlords in taking over the management of their properties. These properties will then be utilised by the council to support households who are owed a homelessness duty.
- Creation of a private landlord liaison service. This will support landlords who are experiencing issues with current tenants and who are contemplating taking eviction action. By acting as a mediator the aim of the service will be to resolve the issue in order to prevent the landlord from having to take eviction action.
We have been advised that our bid in this category was successful and that we are now a Homelessness Prevention Trailblazer area.
As you know, the issue of rough sleeping is a complex one and clearly traditional methods of supporting people off the streets are not having the impact we need. Whatever we do differently we need to work closely with our partners in the NHS, police, voluntary, faith and community sectors as we all have responsibility for resolving the challenge of rough sleeping.
Whilst we can draw some learning from other areas who are experiencing similar challenges, we need to focus on a set of solutions for Peterborough that support rough sleepers off the streets where they engage with us, manages rough sleepers off the streets where they are not engaging with us, and makes our streets feel safe and welcoming for all our residents and visitors.
To achieve this we believe it requires the support and input from across the political spectrum, and so we have asked our Adults and Communities Scrutiny Committee to work with officers to recommend actions and interventions that resolve the challenge.
To start the process we have asked officers to arrange a briefing for all councillors, to discuss the subjects touched on in this email in more detail. This briefing will take place on Thursday 2nd February at 9pm (21:00 hours) in the Reception Room at the Town Hall. An invite for this will follow shortly to confirm the date in your diaries.
We have also arranged a walkabout in known rough sleeper hotspot locations to which members of the Adults and Communities Scrutiny Committee and the five Group Leaders have been invited. Officers will also invite key local media to the walkabout. This walkabout will take place immediately after the briefing on Thursday 2nd February starting at 10pm (22:00 hours).
This will help everyone to experience the issues first hand, before moving into a more formal process of cross-party working group meetings during which our current approach to working with rough sleepers can be scrutinised, and other interventions and approaches can be considered.
As this is a high profile and very live issue, we have asked officers to provide whatever support and information is required to enable the process to conclude as swiftly as possible in order that recommendations can be considered and outcomes mobilised.
Councillor John Holdich OBE Councillor Irene Walsh
Leader of the Council Cabinet Member for Communities and Environment Capital.