Homelessness appears to be a growing issue in my Mansfield constituency, and that’s increasingly obvious to anyone wandering through the town centre. The truth of the matter is that we have something of a reputation for supporting homeless people locally, one that leads people to travel for miles to reach our town centre.
Anecdotally local police tell me that they speak to people who have travelled from as far as Liverpool, some 125 miles. And according to the council, the 18 homeless people on their books last year are all housed, but now they have 18 new cases. Small numbers, of course, compared to London, but in a small town, it’s a visible problem.
It’s perhaps a sad state that simply having warm-hearted local residents who take the time to help vulnerable people through soup kitchens, food banks and other services makes us a beacon that attracts people from many miles away. But it also presents a huge challenge for our local services – one that I am determined to support, particularly given the Government’s commitment to end homelessness for good.
Much has been written on the subject, and many horror stories told about the lives of some of those living, and occasionally dying, on the streets. My own experience, from a year spent digging into every facet of this issue in my constituency, is that people have many different stories. Some face challenges with addiction or mental health, others have lost a job, a relationship or have been kicked out of their home, indeed some actually don’t want any help.
But in the 21st century, as many have said before me, nobody should be on the streets, and those who want help should get it. The Government is beginning to take steps to meet the challenge head-on, to offer that much-needed support, and to end homelessness once and for all.
The new Homelessness Reduction Act has just come into force as part of the Government’s plans to end rough sleeping by 2027. The Act requires local housing authorities to take reasonable steps to help prevent any eligible person who is at risk of homelessness from becoming homeless.
In practice, this means taking decisive action to help individuals stay in their current accommodation or helping them find somewhere else they can live. It extends the period for which people are considered as “threatened with homelessness” to 56 days, giving local authorities more time to avert a crisis and help the individual to pull themselves back from the brink.
The legislation builds on previous worthy steps, including the Flexible Homelessness Support Grant, which for my constituency of Mansfield is a quarter of a million pounds over three years and has helped to provide new frontline staff to help deal with the Mamba drug epidemic spreading through our town centre and among our homeless population.
It’s good news to see real steps forward on homelessness, and for the Government to have the support of Crisis and Shelter on this issue, but there are further steps to be taken. The key point from my experience is the need to improve access to support services for mental health and drug and alcohol addiction. For many of those on Mansfield’s streets, these are either a cause or a symptom of homelessness.
Those who simply fall on hard times but are otherwise well do tend to get the help to get back on their feet, at least in Mansfield that is the case. But for those with more complex needs, the services simply don’t stack up. These services, prevention as well as cure, are the key.
Homelessness is an issue that cuts to the absolute core of what we want to be as a country – what we should be but are not quite yet achieving. I am, however, optimistic that it’s a problem we can solve, at least for the majority who want help. And the Government can be proud of recent legislation that will improve the services that are available, with new powers, responsibilities and funding. If we continue to work with brilliant charities and deal with the prevention as well as the cure, we can be confident of a future in which rough sleeping isn’t a worry for anybody.