Hardly a week goes by without homelessness or rough sleeping hitting the national news.
While Chesterfield doesn’t have the same level of problems faced by some of the big cities and towns we do experience issues too – and one person homeless is one person too many.
The cause of this is a range of factors coming together. Some of the most common are drug or alcohol dependency, mental health issues or benefit changes, particularly the recent introduction of Universal Credit.
We also know that Chesterfield is attracting rough sleepers who see it as a safer option than being in some of the surrounding cities. The generosity of local people to give food, clothing and other items, combined with the lower risk of violence towards them means that some rough sleepers have specifically come to Chesterfield.
What complicates the situation further is that another group of people who are not actually homeless but are friends with people who are rough sleeping or themselves have drug or alcohol dependencies are often on the streets too.
In the same way that there is no one cause, equally there is no one easy solution. That is why Chesterfield Borough Council is working together with all the other public bodies (eg police, Derbyshire County Council, NHS, probation), the voluntary sector and the business community to tackle all the issues as a whole.
This work is brought together through the Chesterfield town centre summits chaired by the Derbyshire Police and Crime Commissioner Hardyal Dhindsa. The group’s work is focused on three linked areas:
Enforcement: This focuses on tackling some of the anti-social behaviour that has been seen in Chesterfield town centre that is often associated with people who are, or appear to be, either homelessness or rough sleeping.
This area of work has already seen the police significantly increase their patrols and presence in the town centre. They have targeted some of the dealers who are supplying people on the streets with drugs, particularly the drugs that were previously known as ‘legal highs’.
As a council we have introduced a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) which gives the police and our enforcement officers powers to deal with some of the anti-social behaviour experienced in the town centre over recent months. PSPOs are not aimed at people who are homeless or rough sleeping but at dealing with people who are breaking the law and creating problems for the law-abiding majority.
Treatment and support: This strand of the work recognises that the only effective long-term solution is to provide people who are on the streets with the support they need to get permanent accommodation or deal with the underlying issues that aggravate their situation.
By working together the various agencies can avoid duplication and identify any areas where support is not currently provided so that both can be addressed.
Chesterfield Borough Council also supports this work through its funding of voluntary agencies. We have a strong working relationship with Pathways and others who support the hard to reach homeless.
Within the council itself our homelessness prevention team works to provide accommodation for anyone who needs it. We are also a key player in the North Derbyshire Homelessness Forum that brings together a range of agencies who are working to prevent homelessness and support people who are rough sleeping.
The final area of work is lobbying the Government to make them aware of the impact that welfare reforms are having on the streets of Chesterfield. While the group is not seeking to make political points the recent welfare reform changes have undoubtedly had a visible impact on this issue.
With the support of our MP Toby Perkins we are asking the Government to be aware of what is happening and make changes to their welfare policies to help provide more assistance to the people who need it.
More information about homelessness and the support the council is able to offer can be seen at www.chesterfield.gov.uk/homelessness