The City of Wolverhampton Council has led a highly effective multi-agency response focused on offering tailored, comprehensive support designed to tackle the root causes.
The City of Wolverhampton was affected by the recent sharp rise in the number of rough sleepers across England. Such a trend brings with it devastating social costs for the individual as well as escalating financial demands on the public purse.
Official statistics showed the number of rough sleepers nationally had risen by 169% since 2010. Historically, Wolverhampton has had a small number of rough sleepers but between 2014-16 the figure doubled and continued to increase in 2017.
Rough sleepers are among the most vulnerable people in the city with a life expectancy of just 43 years for women and 47 for men, according to Crisis. Crisis also estimates the average the cost of someone sleeping rough in terms of emergency health care, criminal justice and other support is approximately £20,000 a year. There are also costs to local business and the council – cleaning upland vacated by rough sleepers can cost thousands of pounds. Enforcement action is also costly and often moves rough sleepers from one part of the city to another without addressing underlying issues.
The Council was already spending £1.2m a year on homelessness and rough sleeping with provision including emergency accommodation via a night shelter, hostels and day centre facilities delivered in partnership with Wolverhampton Homes (an ALMO), the private and voluntary sectors. New thinking was required to address the rise in rough sleeping and develop long- term solutions.
In 2017 council leader Cllr Roger Lawrence launched the City of Wolverhampton Tackling Rough Sleeping Task Team to draw key organisations together around the issue. Chaired by the leader,
it involved representatives from Wolverhampton City Centre BID, the council (including public health, community safety, housing & homelessness services, and city health), Recovery Near You, Wolverhampton Drug Service User Involvement Team, Refugee and Migration Centre, West Midlands Police, Wolverhampton Homes and West Midlands Combined Authority.
It became apparent that while there was some partnership working to support rough sleepers, there was duplication, gaps in provision and limited engagement from health partners. The Task Team therefore asked Public Health to lead a multi-agency operational group going forward.
Every year local councils carry out a count of rough sleepers on a date set by Government, which provides a useful snapshot but tends to underestimate the true scale. Through collaboration, the operational group got a far more accurate picture and found there were 30 rough sleepers in the city – far higher than the annual count’s figure of 19.
The early stages of this multi-agency approach helped to establish the main reasons for rough sleeping, which included the closure of provision elsewhere and exclusion from local support due to violent and aggressive behaviour (often related to drug and alcohol issues).
The Task Team recognised that ending rough sleeping could not be achieved by any one organisation alone. A key priority was to develop new joint ways of working to provide tailored one-to- one support.
As a result of the Council’s joined up and strategic approach, 20 organisations are now involved in the operational group with partners meeting frequently to share intelligence, agree next steps and carry out joint work on the streets. The Council is working with the West Midlands Combined Authority to tackle rough sleeping as part of a coordinated regional response. The Task Team has also overseen the implementation of a refreshed Homelessness Prevention Strategy and allocations policy to support the council to deliver a preventative homeless service in line with the Homelessness Reduction Act. This includes a clear message of intervention and prevention and access to quality accommodation.
A joined-up approach has also ensured the Council’s provision is more comprehensive, responsive and better equipped to reach vulnerable individuals. The operational group carries out monthly rough sleeping counts to maintain an accurate picture of the situation. The Group has piloted and rolled out ‘out of hours outreach provision’ on four nights a week up until 11pm. A multi-agency rough sleeper team has been launched in a prominent location in the city centre involving officers from Wolverhampton Homes, West Midlands Police, outreach services and the antisocial behaviour team.
There are now an extra 10 emergency units of single person’s accommodation provision The Task Team helped four local organisations to secure £374,000 over two years from MHCLG for targeted outreach activity by facilitating a meeting with Government and assisting with the bid.
The operational group has piloted a new way for people sleeping rough, or at risk of rough sleeping, to access support for training and employment via a tailored referral process involving housing, police and local voluntary organisations. So far 31 individuals have registered with Wolves@Work (a council-led partnership bringing together employers, jobseekers and training & education providers), giving them access to a dedicated work coach at three locations. Four people have been supported into employment and learning from the pilot is shaping provision going forward.
The Council now has a city-wide approach that benefits and engages residents. Rather than give money directly to rough sleepers, the public have been encouraged to support the Alternative Giving Campaign, set up and promoted by the City Centre BID. It’s so far raised over £14,000 through collection boxes around the city and helped to support rough sleepers to access emergency accommodation, clothes and food at short notice until more sustainable support is in place. Its website has been refreshed this year to enable online donations.
The street link reporting app, www.streetlink.org.uk, and a helpline have been promoted to enable partners and members of the public to notify outreach agencies where people are sleeping rough and in need of assistance.
Rough sleeper numbers have fallen by 64% from 33 in April 2018 to 12 in January 2019 at a time when most areas are experiencing increases. Increasing numbers of rough sleepers are now being helped into accommodation via the city’s Pathway Service commissioned by City of Wolverhampton Council and run by charity P3.
Two guiding principles have underpinned the approach taken by the Task Team. Firstly, no-one should be forced to sleep rough in Wolverhampton and all efforts should be focused on providing a viable and long-lasting alternative.
Secondly, delivering real and sustainable change to end rough sleeping involves working together to ensure those experiencing rough sleeping are fully engaged and at the heart of what the Council does
So while the Task Team concluded in January, the fundamental changes it ushered in will continue. By piloting new ways of working, with a focus on an outcomes-based approach, it has identified best practice that is now adopted as business as usual.
In January, Health & Wellbeing Together (a forum involving key leaders from city’s health and care system) agreed to the Task Team’s final recommendations and confirmed a commitment to collectively tackle rough sleeping by having strategic oversight of the Homelessness Prevention Strategy 2018-2022 and actively contributing to the associated action plan.