Thanet council is bidding for government funding for eight flats to help rough sleepers get off, and stay off, the streets.
The Next Steps funding programme, launched by government in July, aims to help councils to cover property costs and support new tenancies for vulnerable people who were provided with emergency accommodation during the pandemic.
One strand of funding is to ensure interim accommodation and support continues for those who need it and can be used to help people move into the private rented sector, extend or secure alternative interim accommodation or where possible help people to reconnect with friends or family.
A second tranche of funding is to provide supported homes for those currently housed in emergency accommodation.
The Thanet council bid is to fund eight, one-bed flats. These would then be offered as a housing led scheme to support the isle’s most entrenched rough sleepers.
The housing-first approach is one supported by Thanet council deputy leader Helen Whitehead and has also been called for by Ramsgate councillor Becky Wing.
Cllr Wing, who volunteers with the Salvation Army which provides food and support to people sleeping rough, says there needs to be more help for people on the streets who have complex issues by first getting them into accommodation but then continuing support to enable them to stay there.
She said: “Everything is stacked against people. There has to be more support. We need a housing first policy with continued help otherwise people are just being set up to fail.”
Cllr Wing, who also works with young people through the Charlton Athletic Trust, says people are falling through the support gaps and end up relying on charity organisations such as the Salvation Army.
She said: “TDC reported five people on the streets during the pandemic but there were 13 here every morning. People were not supposed to be made homeless (due to government covid restrictions on eviction) but they were. There are people with complex issues and we need to get them into proper housing and then support them.
“Once you become homeless you lose your connections, people feel ashamed.”
New to the streets despite eviction ban
During July Thanet council’s RISE team (Rough sleeper Intervention, Support and Empowerment) found 12 people on the street with six of those becoming homeless during the pandemic despite the government eviction ban.
Sadly three people in the homeless community have recently died, with one man found in a derelict house and police investigating the circumstances of a second person’s death. Two of those who died had been in housing.
Cllr Wing says she is aware of several people who have purposely been caught shoplifting as a prison sentence is preferable to more time on the street and says there are those who have been homeless long-term.
She is working with one woman who has been on the streets for four years to try and secure accommodation for her but says more support is needed.
The woman, who previously had a job and a tenancy but is now sleeping rough on a Thanet beach, said: “It is scary. You have to be really street wise, there are people who will beat you up.
“I was in the winter shelter the first year the RISE team ran it but just ended up back on the street. I’ll have been in the shelter three times this year.
“Carl at the Salvation Army has really helped, all my help has been from here. But I am not being offered anywhere to stay and without an address I can’t even try and get a job.
“If in a month I have nowhere to go then I will make sure I go to prison, it is the only way.”
Another female who has been sleeping rough on the isle told young people who interviewed her as part of their National Citizen Scheme project that she ended up homeless after fleeing domestic abuse.
She said: “I had a difficult home life and my mental health was suffering. I had to choose between living on the streets or finding another partner who I could live with. (There is a) lack of women in the homeless community, there’s not many of us and it’s easy for us to be taken advantage of.”
Cllr Wing says more support and counselling to deal with trauma is needed as well as the basic requirement of a home. She added: “At the moment support is falling to charities and organisations like the Salvation Army who are picking up the pieces. We need a long term solution.”
Thanet council deputy leader Helen Whitehead said discussions around a housing first policy have been taking place.
She said: “Housing First is a very successful model, and is one that I raised in discussion with fellow councillors previously because of my belief in its effectiveness; it is however a model that requires national infrastructure and investment to deliver effectively which is currently not in place. I am committed to promoting it as a national approach as I believe it needs to be delivered.
“Despite this as a district council we do exceptionally well, and our RISE team does exceptionally well, with the funding that is allocated to us.
“I, along with some of my fellow councillors are already in discussions as to how to help some of our most vulnerable clients in Thanet. We are looking at how we can make sure that we connect as effectively as possible to provide the security and support we always endeavour to provide.”
The Rise team
Some 33 people who had been sleeping rough on Thanet streets were found accommodation during the coronavirus lockdown period through the work of the RISE.
Thanet council says six people were offered accommodation but declined, so remained on the Three had to leave accommodation after breaching behaviour and substance abuse rules.
The Rise team, officially launched in 2018, is spearheaded by Thanet District Council with Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust, the Forward Trust addiction support service, Thanet Winter Shelter, Salvation Army, Serveco, Paramount Independent Property Services and Citizens Advice Thanet.
A Thanet council spokesperson said: “Thanet District Council’s RISE project is still in operation and has been throughout the pandemic. It continues to work with people who are sleeping rough and to help them into accommodation.
“There are currently 73 former rough sleepers being supported by the RISE team to stay in accommodation. This means 86% of RISE clients are being sustained in accommodation.
“We work closely with a number of local charities and church groups. RISE conducts its own outreach work and also receives referrals from partners, such as the Salvation Army, which then allows us to offer support to people who are in need. In the event that someone has issues with substance misuse, if they’ve been referred to RISE there are specialist workers within the team that can help.
“The multi-agency approach of RISE is designed to try and address the range of needs that may prevent someone from securing or staying in accommodation. For people with even more complex needs that therefore require specific support, we hope to secure further funding via a bid in the Next Steps funding programme from the MHCLG that will allow us to offer a housing-led solution in the future.
“The number of people rough sleeping in the district fluctuates and any figures represent a snapshot of a given moment. Our most recent street count took place on Thursday, July 23, during which 12 rough sleepers were identified. Of those, six were new people that the RISE team is now trying to work with.
“We were very saddened to hear of the passing of three people known to the RISE team, two of whom were in accommodation. The team members are being supported as they process this news.”
Salvation Army Ramsgate
A food bank operates from the Salvation Army base at 167 High Street, Ramsgate, on Tuesday and Friday, 10am to noon. After three parcels in a month the service will only then be able to give a basic bag of pasta, soup and baked beans.
If you need delivery or information call 07900497326.
Find Ramsgate Salvation Army on facebook here
Contact Rise on 01843 577277. Emergency or out of hours: 01843 577000.
Drop-ins: Wednesday 9.30am-noon, Margate Gateway; Tuesday 2pm- 4pm, GAP Baptist Church, Broadstairs.