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Homeless strategy has 'come on leaps and bounds', says councillor

The Royal Borough’s approach to homelessness has ‘come on leaps and bounds’ according to a cabinet member.

At the moment the council is in the process of refreshing its five-year homeless strategy, which is set to go to before cabinet at the end of June.

Cllr Ross McWilliams (Con, Cox Green), cabinet member for housing, communications and youth engagement, said the point of the refresh is to ensure the strategy reflects the most up-to-date data and best practice so that its objectives can be met.

The aims of the strategy include reducing homelessness, reducing the number of people in temporary accommodation and getting them into longer term accommodation, and improving customer service.

In the run up to the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in May 2018, the Royal Borough was subject to international scrutiny on its stance on homelessness.

But Cllr McWilliams said: "I think we’ve come on leaps and bounds, not only in terms of re-building relationships with partners, which I think had become quite frayed back then, but also delivering a high-quality service.”

Cllr McWilliams said the council is now embodying the three core values of compassion, thoroughness and co-operation and is no longer talking about using the nearly 200-year-old Vagrancy Act.

“We’re talking about how do we get people into John West House [a shelter in Howarth Road] and our pathway so that we can help combat their mental health problems, their drug addictions, their alcoholism, whatever it might be we’re helping them deal with the root-cause of the issue.”

He added: “We’ve come a huge way, we’ve gone from a poor service to a very, very good service and I think now we just want to take it on to that next level.”

Earlier this month the Royal Borough held a virtual group which bought together more than 50 individuals and organisations which provide services to the homeless and those in need of housing assistance.

Cllr McWilliams believes the key to putting an end to rough sleeping in the Royal Borough is collaboration with partner organisations, from charities on the ground to the police and housing associations.

“Everyone needs to work together on this,” he said.

“You can’t do this as individual organisations, and we are trying to reflect that in the way we’re doing our consultation on the refresh.”

He added: “It's horrible that anyone should have to sleep rough, and if we can stop it from happening by working together then we should.”

At the moment just over 50 rough sleepers in the Royal Borough are in temporary accommodation as part of the Government’s initiative to get them off the streets during the coronavirus pandemic.

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