Council pledge 24/7 outreach team responding to reports of rough sleepers this winter

Rough Sleeper black and white

Almost 200 people claiming to be homeless and sleeping rough in Bedford borough could not be found by support teams.

At the borough council’s Housing Committee meeting on Wednesday 3 November, it was revealed that in seven months, 196 people who had contacted the Housing Service claiming to be sleeping rough couldn’t be located when outreach teams went looking for them.

The figure was revealed in response to a question from a member of the public.

The question from John Allen, submitted in writing, read: “What is the legal basis for the council, and a homeless service provider commissioned by the council, to tell people who are homeless and vulnerable that they must sleep rough for at least one night before they can access the emergency accommodation service at the Mercure hotel when the Housing Act suggests that if someone is homeless, eligible for assistance and may be in priority need then temporary accommodation should be made available immediately?”

Councillor Colleen Atkins (Labour Party, Harpur Ward) and committee chair, said where the council is satisfied that a person is homeless, eligible for assistance, and may be in priority need, it ensures that the person has accommodation made available to them.

“So emergency accommodation at the Mercure Hotel is being provided for people who do not qualify for emergency accommodation under the housing act and have no option other than to sleep rough,” she said.

Lee Phanco, chief officer for assessment, application and business support, said: “The Mercure Hotel and the accommodation for people who were sleeping rough and at risk of sleeping rough was opened up at the start of the pandemic, so at the end of March beginning of April 2020.

“Since then, the council has provided emergency accommodation there for 405 people. These are all people who would have been assessed at the time that they moved into the Mecure as not being priority need, so otherwise would have had no option other than to sleep rough.

“Since April 2021, 65 new people have moved into the Mecure at some point. I would add that obviously there is a turnover of people there, so that’s the total number, not the number that are accommodated at any point in time.

“But in those same seven months since April, there were 196 people who contacted the Housing Service and claimed that they were homeless and sleeping rough,” he said.

Mr Phanco told the Committee that these 196 people were referred to the Outreach Team, who went out to look for them, but couldn’t find them. They would have been offered accommodation at the hotel if they were sleeping rough.

“We are obviously very conscious that the winter is not far away, and we don’t want people to spend any longer out on the street than is necessary,” he added.

“So during the winter months there’s going to be a 24/7 outreach team and they will be responding to any reports of people sleeping rough and anybody that’s referred through from the other services.

“The intention is that no one will have to spend a night outdoors during the cold weather.

“But, at the same time, it’s to make sure that the people that are being provided with that accommodation are the people that genuinely are in need of it,” he said.

Mr Franco added that only one person is known to be currently sleeping rough in the Borough, but at the moment he doesn’t want the accommodation and support that has been offered.

“At the most, there’s been perhaps three or four people sleeping rough at any point in time. So I think we can say with some confidence that we are making sure that everybody that needs accommodation is getting that accommodation at the moment,” he said.

by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter

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