Chesterfield is a wonderful place to live, work, socialise and shop. It is a beautiful town that I am proud to represent and I feel optimistic about its future. And I am pleased that the majority of Chesterfield residents agree with me. A recent survey of over 2000 residents by the Derbyshire Times showed 77% of the people would recommend Chesterfield as a place to live and showed that the majority of my constituents feel positive about the town’s future. Chesterfield is a great town with an even greater future.
However, no town is without issues and in these tough economic times there are challenges to maintaining our environment as a peaceful place to live, shop and work. The issues regarding rough sleepers and street drinkers in the New Beetwell Street Bus Station and other town centre sites are one of the biggest concerns facing Chesterfield. I recently attended the first in a series of summit meetings arranged by Derbyshire’s Police & Crime Commissioner, Hardyal Singh, to discuss these problems. The meeting brought together representatives from Chesterfield Borough Council, , Derbyshire Constabulary, local businesses, homelessness support charities, health & treatment services, church groups and other agencies, to create a proactive approach to tackling rough sleeping, antisocial behaviour, street drinking and drug abuse.
The strategy agreed at the meeting will focus on enforcement to tackle the unacceptable behaviour, support to help people get rehoused and access appropriate services, and challenging current Government policies that are exacerbating homelessness.
The police and council are developing new rules to stop the behaviours we have seen in the town that are causing so much disruption and concern. The Council, housing associations and charities are also doing all they can to help rough sleepers in to permanent accommodation. The multi-agency approach will help charities, treatment services and housing providers, to work together to provide holistic support that will hopefully lead to long-term housing stability and the removal of this problem from our town centre.
This will need central government to take action as it is clear that the increase in rough sleeping and homelessness also has roots in escalating financial crises facing people on benefits over the last few years and the cutting of funding for local authorities. Changes to Local Housing Allowance now means that anyone under the age of 35 faces a shortfall in rent. Together with other reductions in disability benefit payments and council tax support, this means many on the streets know they cannot afford the properties that are being offered to them. They want the support, but feel like they are being set up to fail and will only end up homeless once again, possibly with huge debts for rent arrears.
We have wonderful charities like Action Housing, who have created a multi-occupancy supported housing service for homeless young people, which I visited last year, and Pathways, which provides advice and practical support to homeless people. There are also church and charity groups providing food and clothing to rough sleepers. These are all vital in helping provide treatment but not to cure root causes.
Locally, we now have a joint strategy that will hopefully lead to positive change, but homelessness is increasing every year right across the UK and we need Government to take action so that towns like Chesterfield remain safe, enjoyable places to visit and live.