Council chief outlines importance of prevention strategies to end homelessness
Cabinet member for homes and neighbourhoods, Cllr Sharon Thompson outlined the need for more prevention strategies to eradicate homelessness in Birmingham.
Speaking to Homeless Brum in an exclusive interview, she said the council now focuses on more upstream work towards the prevention stage.
“The prevention strategy works with experts with experience. These are people with lived experiences in homelessness and are looked after by the Birmingham Voluntary Service Council.
“We tried to create a pathway for the people who could be potentially homeless to follow. So if someone is to fall down in the pathway, we know the services to provide to get back in place.
“In the prevention space, we now have a series of hubs comprising of a young people’s hub, domestic abuse hub, over 25’s hub and a hub for ex-offenders. The young peoples hub is looked after by St Basils charity while the domestic abuse hub is looked after by women’s aid.
“Each of these hubs are located in an anonymous space in a healthy environment. The hubs also provide one to one counselling sessions and the members of the housing team will spend time with them and asses the services they further need,” Sharon explained.
The prevention strategy is carried out in partnership with the homelessness task force of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). Established in 2017, the main objective of the task force is to ‘design out homelessness’.
The Taskforce membership includes seven Local Authorities (Birmingham City Council, Coventry City Council, Dudley MBC, Sandwell MBC, Solihull MBC, Walsall MBC, City of Wolverhampton), key public sector agencies, representation from Voluntary and Not for Profit sector and senior representation from the Business Community.
This partnership between the taskforce and the council had reduced the rough sleeper count of Birmingham from 91 to 17 between 2017 and 2020.
What is the role of the Homelessness task force?
Jean Templeton, chairperson of the WMCA homelessness task force outlined the duty of the taskforce as formulating a system combining many factors of homelessness including housing, policing, health, lack of poverty, welfare and education.
“The taskforce does not deal with any finances or legal proceedings. All of those accountability goes to the council. We look at the more systematic approaches.
“We have taken the youth positive pathway model from St Basils. The model looks at the services that are freely available and entitled to everyone in a free and accessible space which mostly includes education and the NHS. Most of the other services depends on the resources a person has. So, if a person loses the home, loses the job, gets sick or suffers from domestic abuse and if there is no support around that person, he/she can soon be homeless.
“When we looked at children and families, young people, older single people and rough sleepers across the seven councils, we realised that a person must get into a crisis situation to get the help they need. So we are trying to design a system where a person does not have to get into a crisis situation to get help which is aimed to be in the universal space,” Jean explained.
This partnership between the council and the homelessness task force was able to accommodate over 800 potential and actual rough sleepers as part of the Covid-19 response at the start of May last year.
‘If at risk of being homeless, come forward as soon as possible’
The councillor also stressed the importance of coming forward and alerting the authorities if someone is at risk of being homeless.
“A lot of people don’t think of being homeless when they fall into difficulty. Falling behind rent a few weeks, losing a job and not being able to find new jobs in these times could potentially lead to homelessness. So what we say is to come forward as soon as possible to look at housing options. All the details are available on the council website and advice can be sought over the phone.
“There are options to negotiate rental agreements and housing benefits issues with landlords. We also have systems in place to help. The council is also going to be relaunching the housing options to look into the prevention space more,” Sharon said.