Are we doing enough to tackle homelessness in Sheffield? Community leaders have their say

For our latest Telegraph Voices feature we ask – Are we doing enough to tackle homelessness in Sheffield? If not, then what more can be done?

Friday, 8th February 2019, 09:16 am
Updated Friday, 8th February 2019, 23:33 pm
Dan Jarvis MP.

Dan Jarvis MP, mayor of the Sheffield City Region

For too many people, this is the hardest time of the year. A decade of austerity has resulted in more homelessness, poverty, debt and financial insecurity than we have seen in a generation. 

David Hussey Yeo.

Here in the Sheffield City Region, the official figures say that around 1,200 people are homeless and approximately 100 people are sleeping rough.

But these figures do not tell the full story. We know that there are many more. The charity Crisis reports that there are 131,000 children in this country without their own home. They are part of the hidden homeless living on the goodwill of friends and family.

This rise in homelessness is not inevitable – it is the result of national policies and a government that has the wrong priorities. The UK is a relatively wealthy country. There is no excuse for thousands of people to be left without a secure, stable home.

We, as a society, are indebted to the  good work of organisations such as the Cathedral Archer Project, Roundabout, Centrepoint, and many more, who are here to pick people up and provide the help they need to help themselves.

Tim Renshaw, Cathedral Archer Project.

This support isn’t just about putting a roof over people’s heads. It’s about providing medical care, enabling access to hot food and showers, and improving homeless people’s life chances, helping them grow in confidence and increase their chances of finding work.

While these charities do extraordinary work, they're often left reacting to crises. Instead we need to come up with long-term solutions.

That's why I'm determined to do all I can, together with those organisations with the right experience and knowledge, to tackle homelessness head-on.

Last month, I held the Sheffield City Region’s first Homelessness Summit. The event brought together councils, MPs, leading organisations and, most importantly, people who have first-hand experience of homelessness.

Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield. Picture: Chris Etchells

I'll also be establishing a Sheffield City Region Homelessness Network to develop a more co-ordinated response to addressing homelessness.

I will be speaking to local authorities and other organisations to make this a reality, as well as campaigning for more resources and better structural support for homeless people. 

By working together, we can take steps towards putting a stable, secure roof over everyone’s head.

David Hussey-Yeo, secretary of Sheffield City Centre Residents' Action Group  

As someone who lives in the city centre I encounter on a daily basis people asking for some spare change.

I feel a sense of helplessness as I know there is no easy solution. I have  been fortunate, as part of SCCRAG , to work closely with Help us Help this year.

This is an umbrella organisation in Sheffield uniting the various agencies working behind the scenes. I see the great work going on in the background by local charities like the Archer Project and Bens Centre to name a few of the many local organisations supporting the homeless.

It goes largely unnoticed the work of the many volunteers behind the scenes who support these organisations. It is very humbling to see people from all walks of life giving up their valuable time on a regular basis to support the vulnerable seen on our streets.

Are we doing enough? Council funds are limited and the introduction of universal credit will not alleviate the problem. This has the potential impact on people to miss rental payments and push more people onto the street. It is encouraging for council leader Julie Dore to say that Sheffield housing will protect tenants with rent arrears due to it’s introduction.

The distinction between homelessness and living on the streets is blurred. The charity Crisis makes the statement that those on the streets are twice as likely to have mental health issues.

The person on the city centre street will have accommodation or the offer of accommodation. However their complex and chaotic lifestyles makes it difficult for them to live normal lives.

My response to whether we are doing enough to help the homeless in Sheffield is a qualified no. I sincerely believe that we don’t help people on the streets by giving them cash directly. As a city we are very generous but our giving to those on the street will provide no long term solution.

An acknowledgment and engagement with those you meet on the streets is a good way to help. Encouraging the vulnerable to seek assistance, of which there is plenty, and politely explaining why you do not give them cash directly is how we can best help them in the long term.

 

Tim Renshaw, chief executive of the Cathedral Archer Project in Sheffield

It’s great to tell amazing stories about people who have been homeless doing well, building good lives and realising lost or hidden talents.

At the Cathedral Archer Project we have many to tell but the bigger picture is that homelessness is on the rise throughout Britain including on the streets of the cities and towns in our region.

The High Street is in decline and begging and visible drug use seems to be on the increase. It is an odd state of affairs for the world’s fourth largest economy. Surely, we can do something about it.

Central government has taken some steps with the Homeless Reduction Act and a Rough Sleeper Team with the aim of ending homelessness within 10 years but it is clear to many of us on the frontline that we will need to do more now if we are to meet this target.

If these ambitions are to be realised, and they should be, we need to focus on two aspects of homelessness and rough sleeping.

Firstly, tackling homelessness has to be housing led. Getting people into suitable accommodation is essential if we want longer term solutions to work. In many instances the only accommodation available for rough sleepers is in close proximity to other people who are facing the same problems.

Consequently, the desire to overcome substance or alcohol dependency is hampered by others who continue to use. Affordable accommodation for, in the main, single people is in short supply.

Secondly, we have to take long term solutions seriously. Helping people to overcome the things that led to their homelessness is far cheaper in the long term than repeatedly helping the same people into new accommodation. It means being a little more scientific about homelessness.

We know a lot of street homelessness is linked to past trauma (experienced in childhood or PTSD). Ideally, we want to prevent trauma from happening in childhood but we also need to support those who have suffered to manage their lives away from the streets.

The Cathedral Archer Project is one of a number of agencies in the region helping people to do just this, not only gaining accommodation but discovering purpose and finding paid employment. The evidence is clear, if we invest in people’s futures we will improve both the lives of individuals and our city centres.

Paul Blomfield, Sheffield Central MP

I recently took two leading Sheffield homelessness charities to tell ministers about barriers they face in tackling homelessness and rough sleeping.

Tim Renshaw, of the Cathedral Archer Project, and Ben Keegan, of Roundabout, joined me to share their experience with cabinet office minister Oliver Dowden, whose department leads the cross-governmental  Rough Sleeping and Homelessness Reduction Taskforce.

These two great local charities deal with different parts of the problem. The Archer Project helps rough sleepers by supporting them to rebuild their lives. Roundabout provides emergency accommodation and support for young people, as well as mediation to try keeping families together.

Many people raised homelessness in my annual community consultation, the Big Conversation, in September.

Concern tends to focus on those we see living on the streets, as the most visible sign of the homelessness crisis. Sadly, the problem extends to thousands of people ‘sofa–surfing’ or in temporary accommodation. 

Shelter estimates that there are 300,000 homeless people across the UK, including 4,813 in Yorkshire and the Humber, where 170 are sleeping rough.

It’s a disgrace and it’s a direct result of government decisions.

The deep cuts made to public services and benefits since 2010, to fund tax cuts to top earners and big corporations, has driven the increase in poverty and homelessness.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Homelessness fell by two-thirds under Labour and can again.

Immediately, we have proposed a ‘rough sleepers cold weather fund’, funded by extra tax on second homes, to provide shelter and support workers.

We would address the causes of homelessness too, building 100,000 affordable homes each year and reversing punitive benefits cuts and sanctions. We would fund local councils, and through them, local charities to provide the help rough sleepers need to rebuild their lives.