When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, 500 people were ‘rough sleeping’ – or at risk of rough sleeping – in Hertfordshire.
For some, that meant finding a place to sleep outside or in a hostel, for others that was relying on the goodwill of friends or ‘sofa-surfing’.
Since then – after a cross-county drive to find everyone a roof and to provide additional support – the number of those rough sleeping in the county has plummeted.
And now the county council – working alongside district and borough councils and other agencies – has drawn up plans for a pilot scheme to reduce and prevent homelessness, as part of its Covid-19 Recovery Strategy.
By providing a ‘single point of contact’, the £965k homelessness scheme aims to speed up referrals, remove barriers and improve outcomes for those seeking support.
And officials also believe it could reduce hospital admissions, reduce re-offending and reduce the pressure on mental health and substance misuse services.
The pilot – funded for two years – is rooted in the government’s ‘Everybody In’ initiative, which operated during the pandemic.
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As part of that initiative district councils set about accommodating ‘rough sleepers’ in hostels and hotels – while extending the definition to include those who were at risk of rough sleeping too.
And at the same time, the county council co-ordinated a range of support services – to help with issues surrounding domestic abuse, alcohol and drug use or mental health.
The council’s strategic lead for domestic abuse and complex needs Helen Gledhill says that holistic approach – bringing together housing provision and immediate access to support service – has been “transformational”.
And, says senior development manager Sukhvinder Rai, for many of those supported throughout the pandemic, the integrated approach has helped to stop a cycle of homelessness
“That cycle of homelessness would have been repeated time and time again if that individual doesn’t get the right amount of support,” she said.
“If they get the right support they have the best chance – and stop the cycle of homelessness.”
Currently, the vast majority of those ‘rough sleepers’ accommodated in Hertfordshire as part of the Everybody’s In initiative have moved on – to permanent homes, supported accommodation or are waiting for accommodation.
Only a small number are reported to still be in hotels. And the estimates of ‘rough sleepers’ in the county have dropped.
But Helen Gledhill stresses that aside from the data, the real success is the difference the approach has made to individuals.
She said: “Whilst the numbers are incredible, it’s about understanding what’s going on in the individual’s life – and the difference it is making to them.”
‘Rough sleepers’ are usually defined as people who sleep in the open air in doorways, parks or bus shelters or in places not designed for habitation, such as barns, derelict boats or cars.
However, in relation to the ‘Everyone’s In’ project, the definition was extended to include those who were at risk of rough sleeping – including those who were sofa-surfing.
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Under the extended definition there were found to be around 500 people identified as rough sleeping or at risk of rough sleeping at the beginning of the pandemic.
Current estimates suggest there are 10 rough sleepers in the county – but the definition of rough sleeping is reverting to those bedding down in the open air or in places not designed for habitation.
The homelessness pilot is included in the Hertfordshire Covid-19 Recovery Strategy, which will be presented to a virtual meeting of the county council’s resources and performance cabinet panel on Friday (October 1) at 10am.
That meeting can be viewed here.
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