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LOCAL ELECTION: How parties would tackle homelessness

LOCAL ELECTION: How parties would tackle homelessness

From this week, the Advertiser is running election features focusing on different topics.

We are asking parties to tell us what their policies on each issue is as the May 2 local election rumbles closer.

Council seat reductions mean 41 seats are being contested.

This week, we asked the parties to explain how they will tackle homelessness in the borough.

CONSERVATIVES

Cllrs Stuart Carroll (Con, Boyn Hill), the cabinet member for adult social care and public heatlh, and Cllr Michael Airey (Con, Clewer South), cabinet member for environmental services, said:

RBWM Conservatives are absolutely committed to protecting our most vulnerable residents. That is why we have invested significant resource into an updated homelessness strategy and a far-reaching stakeholder consultation. The strategy resolves to reduce the numbers of people becoming homeless and in temporary accommodation, providing alternative quality, affordable housing.

We have created a homeless prevention relief fund, including a multi-agency forum to jointly support homelessness cases and individual, joint hospital discharge plans. The Making Every Adult Matter co-ordination project has seen many rough sleepers transition into long-term sustainable housing.

Crucially, we take a holistic and compassionate approach to homelessness, focusing on underlying causes. We have prioritised Resilience, RBWM’s drugs and alcohol service, which Public Health England has ranked as one of the best in the UK. Given addiction is a primary symptom of an underlying mental health challenge (dual diagnosis), mental health remains a critical priority, exemplified by our leadership of the Brighter Berkshire campaign and offering mental health first aid training to RBWM staff.

Building on this record, your local Conservatives will announce three core manifesto pledges next week:

1) Prioritise young people’s mental health and resilience

2) Increase Adult Social Care funding in real terms every year

3) Build hundreds of social rented homes over the next four years.

We will always do everything we can to protect vulnerable people and continue to place this imperative at the heart of a Conservative-led council.


THE BOROUGH FIRST

Cllr Claire Stretton (TBF, Boyn Hill, standing for Riverside ward in May), the party leader, said:

TBF believe that regardless of who you are, or your circumstances, you deserve a place to call home and that all local services, including not-for-profits, should be working together to not only relieve homelessness but to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Those who currently support the homeless tell us that the most essential way is to provide safe shelter and holistic ongoing support, including half-way houses and permanent accommodation. Sue Brett (Brett Foundation) advises that providing a shelter does not have to be expensive. She said: “Living on the streets can be frightening, dangerous, uncomfortable… It is also challenging to be clean and ‘presentable’, making it almost impossible to get work.”

TBF would support the active local not-for-profit sector to do this work as they understand the issues and would provide the most cost-effective solution for council tax payers.

We would also ensure our Armed Forces veterans receive targeted support.

One of the key issues is the naïve view that a roof will solve all your problems. It won’t. You need a roof and ongoing support.

Former manager of the Windsor Homeless Project Murphy James said: “A person goes from being ‘street homeless’ to being ‘homed homeless’, not knowing how to fend for themselves.”

We will ensure that support is available bringing all the relevant agencies together.

No local person will be in a situation where they have no choice but to sleep on the streets and there will be supportive and resourced places to help them to reintegrate into society.


LABOUR

David Knowles-Leak, Maidenhead Labour chairman, said: Homelessness is a symptom of people’s desperation and abysmal housing infrastructure which does not meet the needs of swathes of people who need security in an affordable rental property. It is never far from issues of mental health which is just as important as physical health.

The homelessness problem will not be solved by criminalising people or sweeping them up.

Neither is it a problem that can be solved by local authorities alone: it needs action by government, local authorities and all of us.

In RBWM we need a change in attitude, and we need to stop fobbing off those who need social housing to other councils with so-called appropriate housing stock.

The government can repeal the Vagrancy Act of 1820, stop outsourcing its responsibilities to local authorities without properly funding them. It needs to accept that social and health care (including mental health care) belong in the same bucket and that a multi-disciplinary approach to homelessness with trained first responders, local interim care and support facilities covering health and training, and appropriate housing with security of tenure for long-term settlement.

The local authority too needs to be in the frontline of this initiative and embrace it by facilitating the integration of social and health care where it can. Most importantly it needs to build social housing; the recent Shelter report put the nationwide demand for social housing at 3.1 million homes, pro-rata that is about 700 needed now in the borough. The how is outlined in the Town & Country Planning Association report on affordable housing.

This is a big issue to turn round, and the process will be made much quicker with our engagement with and support to all those groups and charities on the front line of this crisis of our creation.

The council should facilitate the co-ordination of a local housing action group.


LIBERAL DEMOCRATS

Cllr Simon Werner (Lib Dem, Pinkneys Green) said:

We believe it is essential to collaborate with the charities and organisations who work with rough sleepers.

They are the experts and have the expertise to guide our policies and practice. We would engage fully with Windsor Homeless Project, The Susan Brett Foundation, More than a Shelter and others, making it easier for them to get their job done.

To address the scandal of rough sleeping, we advocate a ‘Housing First’ model. This evidence-based approach uses independent stable housing as a platform to help people with complex needs move away from homelessness. Used across the USA, Europe and trialled in the UK, it can reduce the demand on other services such as shelters, police custody and hospitals. Flexible support is provided for as long as it is needed and a home is seen as a right rather than a reward. We believe in personalised support for those with complex and multiple needs and we would promote mental health and addiction services.

We would also seek to provide opportunities for volunteering and employment to help people get back into the world of work. Homelessness encompasses a range of insecure housing situations so we are keen to tackle some of the risk factors, including rogue landlords, short-term tenancy agreements and a lack of genuinely affordable housing. The Lib Dems will ensure developers deliver on their social housing obligations and will build affordable or social rent housing by contracting the building work ourselves or through a wholly owned housing company.

Soon after the election of a Lib Dem council, we would expect to see a permanent night shelter to provide emergency housing, not just during SWEP, but year round.

Run in partnership with local organisations, this would be a hub for people to access a range of services and support, as well as shelter. In time, RBWM would trial a Housing First project and we would expect to see the numbers of street-homeless decrease, easing demand on acute services.


Independent candidate for Furze Platt Cllr Hari Sharma said he wanted to see the borough adopt a 'housing first' model to which he said has worked in Finland.

He said: "There is ample evidence from many countries that shows it is always more cost effective to aim to end homelessness instead of simply trying to manage its consequences. I believe a policy of this kind could be more than five times effective than existing services (multi agency approach). Local council resources should be focused on supporting more mainstream efforts to tackle homelessness and prevent instances of entrenched homelessness."


Any parties looking contesting the election and looking to get involved in our features can email news@baylismedia.co.uk 

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