Last week on my Saturday rounds I was talking to some of the stall holders on Brentwood High Street, asking them about business and the state of the world. They raised with me the fact that there are a small number of people sleeping rough in the area who need help - and how the stall holders want to see the rubbish left in some doorways cleared up. I’ve taken their concerns to the council which has promised to look into it all.
We certainly need a clean and tidy high street where people want to come and shop - and we need to make sure that people who are down on their luck are given every opportunity to turn their lives around.
So I’m pleased to be able to report that this week the Government has published a cross-government strategy setting out the first steps towards halve rough sleeping by 2022 and end it by 2027. The plan is for local and central government will work together to prevent rough sleeping happening in the first place, to help people off the streets and to recover from the problems that caused them to end up there.
The Government strategy plans to prevent rough sleeping by providing timely support to those at risk. This will include interventions to help people already on the street get swift, targeted support through a new initiative, Somewhere Safe to Stay and introducing specialists who will help people sleeping rough access the appropriate services and accommodation. There will also be up to £30 million for health services for people sleeping rough and training for frontline staff on how to help people on drugs and those who are victims of domestic abuse and modern slavery.
People end up on the streets for all kinds of reasons, from the breakdown of a relationship, to overwhelming debt, to alcoholism and drug taking. Some choose to resist offers of help, despite obvious and desperate need for assistance with health, social, and mental health issues. When I visited Brentwood Foodbank a couple of weeks ago, church workers were heading out to the High Street to offer further counselling to a young man who had found himself living rough. It can take days and weeks of patient care and listening from all kinds of people, from council housing officers to street pastors to local church leaders, before a rough sleeper will accept assistance.
It’s not an easy task. But I know people in this area care about those around them, and we can be proud of the help which is offered by the local councils, churches and individuals. www.alexburghart.org.uk
Since writing this article, I have received the following response to my inquiries about the issue from Brentwood Borough Council:
"The Council have been working with our partners, including local charities, to address the homeless situation in Brentwood, particularly in and around the High Street. To provide some clarity, in England, a Local Authority only has a duty, and resources, to provide emergency and/or permanent accommodation to certain ‘categories’ of individuals. The Housing Act 1996 states that if a homeless individual is not ‘in Priority Need’ (as legally defined) then there is no duty to provide accommodation.
The new Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 provides an increased prevention/relief duty but this does NOT alter the Housing Act 1996 and does not remove the requirement for individuals to match the ‘Priority Need’. Local Authorities have a duty to balance these statutory requirements. Any homeless individual may seek advice & assistance in person from the Council. Our homeless officers also carry out outreach in attempt to engage with any individual who is reported as homeless and sleeping on the streets.
We simply do not have the powers to prevent someone sleeping on the streets and can only offer our support if they wish to engage. There is no offence committed if someone chooses for whatever reason to sleep on the streets. Essex Police do have powers to tackle any person who is deemed to be aggressively begging, and have taken action under the Vagrancy Act when this occurs. They also have the powers to deal with any criminal activity or public order offences. The Councils enforcement officers have been carrying out regular patrols in the High Street reminding homeless individuals of the behaviour which is expected. We have also engaged with a charity called Team Challenge who have been carrying out outreach work with the more vulnerable homeless to support them in accepting help to get off the streets, and to address any support services they need. Our officers are removing their bedding from the High Street when it is unattended, and storing it for 7 days at our depot for them to collect. If it is not collected within this time it will be destroyed. This is all in a bid to encourage them to behave responsibly, and not to cause a nuisance.
The Council are proactively tackling to anyone who is behaving inappropriately in the High Street. We are aware of a number of homeless individuals and all have been approached by the Council and support offered. Unfortunately, all of the current homeless individuals (4 in total) have refused offers of assistance. However, we have been able to work with a charity who provides outreach and support to the homeless. They have been able to secure a place in rehab facility for one of the most vulnerable homeless individuals. Nevertheless, it is now down to the individual to accept the offer which we are also encouraging them to do.
From a Council enforcement perspective we do not have powers available to us to remove the homeless individuals. However, we do have powers to tackle any individual who is behaving in a manner which causes alarm, harassment and distress. Our Enforcement Officers have been patrolling the High Street at key times and engaging with the homeless individuals making it clear what behaviour is deemed acceptable. We are also removing any bedding which is unattended in the High Street. If deemed appropriate we store the items at our depot for a 7 day period giving the homeless individual the opportunity to retrieve their items. This is to re-enforce the message that we will not accept bedding being left in the High Street at locations such as the Chapel Ruins, benches and shop doorways. We are also working with the Council’s CCTV and Essex Police in sharing information and ensuring appropriate action is taken.
The Council have also approved a Public Spaces Protection Order for the Town Centre and surrounding area which is likely to be in force with effect from the end of September. This will provide greater powers to Essex Police and Council officers to tackle a whole raft of behaviours including anti-social behaviour, street drinking, aggressive begging and more. For more detail visit the Council website http://www.brentwood.gov.uk/index.php?cid=2858
We will continue to work with our partners to ensure we respond to the communities concerns and that all available powers available are used to tackle any inappropriate behaviour."