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Meet the councillor helping the homeless

CHALLENGE AHEAD: Councillor Sharon Thompson wants to end homelessness in Birmingham

A POPULAR Birmingham councillor is among the officials from across the region that have pooled resources with partners from the public, private and voluntary sectors to help safeguard rough sleepers in the region during the winter months.

As part of the West Midlands Homelessness Taskforce, each member council will use their own plans and expertise to help rough sleepers, with outreach teams in Birmingham, Coventry, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton working to respond to locate people known to be sleeping rough and support them to access a place of safety.

The goal is that everyone who is sleeping rough in the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) area will be able to access severe weather provision.

This includes people whose needs are complex, pet owners, couples, those who have no recourse to public funds, people who may have previously been banned from support services and those with no local connection.

People in the West Midlands will be able to alert local authorities to rough sleepers in their area who will connect them to local support services.

In addition, a co-ordinated regional response will be working to ensure individuals are matched to the appropriate services and support to move them away from sleeping on the streets for good.

Work has already begun to match the first people with homes for the regional Housing First pilot, which has secured £9.6m from the Government and is being led by Birmingham City Council.

This is a project to support entrenched rough sleepers with the most complex needs to access accommodation alongside intensive support to enable them to recover from issues such as mental ill health or substance abuse and to sustain their tenancies.

PROVISION

Speaking of the Taskforce, Councillor Sharon Thompson, cabinet member for homes and neighbourhoods at Birmingham City Council, said: “It is so important that we work together across the city and region to address homelessness and rough sleeping.

“Nobody should have to sleep rough, and it is even more important we support them as the temperature drops. Our cold weather provision is now in place and will remain so until the weather improves; we have rest rooms in our hostels, hot meal provision and, importantly, a chance to engage with people using these services.”

She added: “There are a great many hard-working people from charities and public organisations who will be out and about helping people this winter, as they do throughout the year.

We still have a challenge ahead of us to achieve our vision of eradicating homelessness in Birmingham, including the number of people rough sleeping, and our focus is very much on intervention and trying to stop rough sleeping and homelessness from occurring in the first place.

“While it is vital that we provide temporary shelter for rough sleepers, we need to have permanent, affordable housing, with properly funded health and recovery-based services.

“A really good example of this is the regional Housing First programme; Birmingham City Council and local registered housing provider Bourneville Village Trust let the first tenancies in the region as part of this programme, so these are individuals successfully housed who would otherwise have been sleeping on the streets.”

WMCA is made up of councils in Wolverhampton, Coventry, Dudley, Solihull, Sandwell and Walsall, as well as Birmingham. While official figures estimate there are 50-60 rough sleepers in Birmingham, charity workers suggest the figure numbers in the hundreds.

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