We will all be aware of the growing numbers of families who are homeless and those people who are sleeping rough in Milton Keynes. Having dealt with many cases through our offices, we know it has become a pressing issue.
To address it will mean exploring a range of solutions, working together cross-party and engaging with all relevant stakeholders. There is a statutory duty for local authorities to offer accommodation to ‘priority need groups’ but those who are homeless or rough sleeping often have a complex range of issues that go beyond just accommodation needs.
It is important to note the difference between homelessness and rough sleeping. They are two distinct problems that need different solutions. Someone who is classed as homeless has no permanent home to occupy, whereas someone who is considered a rough sleeper is bedding down in the open air. The latest figures we have seen show there are nearly 800 homeless individuals and families in temporary accommodation, a sharp increase from around 140 in 2014, seeking help from the Council. The number of rough sleepers is around 80.
For all those people it is a desperate situation and it carries both a financial cost and a heavy social impact on families.
Central and Local Government have roles to play in bringing those numbers down. In February 2017, the Homeless Reduction Act received Royal Assent, passing with widespread support. This Act has far-reaching and long-lasting effects on the people who are homeless. Local authorities will now have to intervene sooner rather than at crisis point, leaving fewer people in vulnerable situations. Help will have to be given to all those threatened with homelessness regardless of priority need and a new duty has been put on public services to notify a local authority of anyone who is homeless or at the risk of becoming homeless. English councils have been given £61 million by Central Government to tackle homelessness.
This Act is an important step in the right direction but more must be done locally. This means taking pragmatic approaches to house people, not based on ideology or playing the blame game, which all too often the current Labour administration running Milton Keynes Council have done.
We have always supported organisations that work in this area, we have continuously lobbied for additional funding and we invited the Minister responsible for homelessness to Milton Keynes to see some of the problems for himself.
That said, acknowledging the growing problem and the need for action, we are setting out our ‘Four Point Plan’ to demonstrate our commitment to getting people off the streets or out of temporary accommodation and into somewhere they can call home.
- We will actively support organisations across MK on initiatives that aim to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. In practice, we plan on visiting all organisations, offering support for funding applications and hosting round table meetings to facilitate new solutions.
- We will continue to work with the Council and the Homelessness Partnership to support the opening of a one-stop shop. It is extremely good news that the Winter Night Shelter and MK Development Partnership have been able to agree a deal to extend the use of the Old Bus Station, the Buszy, in CMK as the one-stop-shop, but that is just the start. The services need to be in place as soon as possible and expanded as it goes forward.
- We will lobby Milton Keynes Council’s Leader and Chief Executive to do more to get the number of those in temporary accommodation down and provide long term solutions. These are families that need the security of a home.
- We also recognise the Government’s role so we will lobby ministers for further support and funding. MK has done well in recent months, for example securing £620,000 from the Government for an outreach service to assist rough sleepers with mental health problems. As part of that we will engage with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Ending Homelessness, a cross-party group putting homelessness at the top of the political agenda.
The Conservative manifesto promises to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and end it by 2027, we want to achieve it much faster here in Milton Keynes.
We will start work immediately on our ‘Four Point Plan’ and we look forward to working with partners across the city to do all we can to solve these issues together.