Skip to content Skip to menu
Open and Transparent Quality Mark 2016/17, 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20
YouTube Instagram LinkedIm

Working together to reduce street homelessness

In her latest blog, Alison talks about street homelessness and how communities can work together to make a difference.

Working together to reduce street homelessness

I was pleased with the recent Government announcement that it was committing £100m in a bold effort to end street homelessness by 2027. A key part of this strategy relates to supporting people with mental ill health and addictions – an approach I totally support.

Street homelessness creates some of the most complex and persistent issues our police officers have to deal with. People living on the street for any length of time are far more likely to become victims of crime than those with stable accommodation, they suffer worse health, have shorter life expectancy and are more prone to addictions to drink and drugs.

Rough sleeping and related issues like begging also have a negative impact on our town and city centres. Businesses across the South West have legitimate concerns about the impact of rough sleeping on the economy and the environment we all cherish. Recent figures show that rough sleeping in the UK has risen for the seventh successive year, with around 4,750 people estimated to be resorting to it on any given night in England.

There are huge disparities in homelessness levels across Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. While the rural council areas of East Devon, Mid Devon, West Devon and Teignbridge barely have a rough sleeper between them (according to the latest Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government figures) Exeter has 6.5 for every 10,000 households, meaning it has a more acute problem than in Birmingham or Manchester.

Torbay and Plymouth have between two and three rough sleepers per 10,000 households and the figure is similar for Cornwall, although west of the Tamar the issue is concentrated in certain areas like Penzance. North Devon has an alarming rate of 4.9 per 10,000 – and most of these people will be sleeping on the streets of Barnstaple, pulling heavily on the resources of this relatively small market town.

Understandably, homelessness and the issues it brings with it results in a lot of calls to the police, but if treated solely as a police matter this is a problem that will never get sorted. It’s not an offence to be homeless, but homeless people come into custody. Typically they will require help with mental health issues, treatment for drug and alcohol addictions and, of course, assistance with housing. If these services aren’t available or fail in some way, an opportunity is missed.
Of course, the police have their part to play in a solution, but so too do councils, the NHS and a charitable sector that we’re fortunate enough to have doing some fantastic work throughout our region.

There’s certainly a lot of work that can be done, but I am optimistic that real progress can be made in this area if we manage to work together for the good of our communities and those individuals who have found themselves on the streets for a variety of reasons. I am pleased to see some communities working together to solve these issues.

In Torbay, for example, funding has been found for a rough sleeper support officer and an addiction expert to help those who live on the streets get their lives back on track, the police have set up a new basic command unit for South Devon to bring a greater focus to these problems and a campaign to ensure donations go to the right place has been supported by business leaders and the local authority. These are early days, but partnerships of this sort are the only way such a complex issue can be solved. If it were straightforward a solution would have been found by now.

However, there are still some simple solutions which would have a massive impact on homelessness and rough sleeping in Devon and Cornwall. Far too many ex offenders are leaving prison with drug habits, little hope of employment and importantly no secure accommodation. Last week the charity Nacro pointed out that a third of prisoners are released on a Friday, when because of the impending weekend they have little chance of securing the services that will help them put a roof over their heads and reduce the likelihood of reoffending.

I’m pleased to say that my office is supporting a Through the Gate scheme that will help former inmates from Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have a much better chance of avoiding homelessness on release. It can be as simple as ensuring they have a phone that’s charged and connected to a network, they have a place to call home and a support network in place.

When the Howard League reports that about a third of people leaving prison said they had nowhere to stay, and the charity Crisis says 41% of people on the streets have served a prison sentence at some point, it is clear that these schemes have the chance to make a real change to people’s lives.

I’m proud that in the position of Police and Crime Commissioner I can make a difference in this area with the ultimate aim of reducing reoffending and harm.

Alison Hernandez