Evidence base for preventing homelessness and rough sleeping strategy

18. Rough sleeping

The legacy District Councils had a strong track record of tackling rough sleeping supported by the RSI (Rough Sleeper Initiative) and working in a multi-agency environment with stakeholders in the statutory and voluntary sector. The commencement of the new authority coincided with the onset of the Covid emergency and the Government’s “Everybody In” instruction. The Council’s successful implementation of “Everybody In” locally was underpinned by the existing rough sleeper working arrangements and stakeholder partnerships that were already in place in Bucks at that time. This included working with Public Health to pro-actively roll out vaccinations to clients and working with partners to support clients within the accommodation on a day-to-day basis, including drug and alcohol services to support safe use within accommodation.

As a result, the Council was able to accommodate over 300 verified rough sleepers during the Covid emergency period, the vast majority of these in bed and breakfast units across Buckinghamshire, mainly in High Wycombe with some provision in Aylesbury. In Aylesbury, an agreement was also reached with a local hotel to provide rooms during the pandemic. Many of these households have moved on from emergency accommodation with the majority moving on to alternate accommodation, including supported housing and private rented accommodation. The Council is taking a measured approach to the end of ‘Everybody In’, providing short-term emergency accommodation for those who are engaged with support and actively looking for somewhere to live. It is likely that a small number of people will return to sleeping rough, but the outreach programme will continue to work with these to support and encourage them to find a home.

The Council has successfully bid for funding from the Government’s NSAP (Next Steps Accommodation Programme), RSAP (Rough Sleeper Accommodation Programme), RSI 4 (Rough Sleeper Initiative 4) and the Accommodation for Ex-Offenders Scheme in order to deliver new and additional accommodation. The Council will continue to deliver a comprehensive outreach and support service for rough sleepers in the post “Everybody In” environment. This includes:

  • A range of measures to identify those at risk of sleeping rough at the earliest possible stage. Measures in place include landlord mediation; funding is also available to reduce benefit shortfalls, reduce rent arrears and support a planned move to alternative accommodation. The measures are supported by internal and external stakeholders including Connection Support, One Recovery Bucks, Oasis drug and alcohol outreach, P3 support, Wycombe Homeless Connection and Aylesbury Homeless Action
  • The ‘Blue Light’ project which draws on public health funding to target those with a history of problem drinking and substance misuse, providing support and recovery work. Again a range of internal and external stakeholders are involved including One Recovery Bucks, Buckinghamshire Council (Housing, Community Safety and Social Care), Public Health, Thames Valley Police, Probation, Mental Health Service, Ambulance Service
  • A scheme for ex-offenders, funded through DLUHC and MOJ, which employs two support officers to help people find appropriate accommodation, with some financial assistance as required
  • Tenancy sustainment measures for ex-rough sleepers to support them in their new accommodation; these include specialist mental health and drug and alcohol support workers. Partners include Connection Support, Bucks MIND
  • 11 units of accommodation provided under the Rough sleeper accommodation programme, in partnership with Wycombe YMCA
  • A programme to enable those housed in hotels and emergency accommodation to move on, with one-to-one support and access to funding as required. Partners include Connection Support, Aylesbury Homeless Action Group, Wycombe Homeless Connection etc.
  • Measures to minimise the time people spend sleeping rough, including expansion of the outreach service, increased and flexible provision of emergency beds, a seven day accommodation offer for verified rough sleepers and expanded provision of specialist mental health and drug and alcohol support
  • A skills and education hub will open in 2022 to provide bespoke practical education and training to support people into employment.

Accommodation options for ex-rough sleepers include:

  • Supported housing schemes mainly in Aylesbury and High Wycombe; generally these are low support with some providing medium/higher support
  • Non-supported housing: a small number of units provided for move-on by Harrow Churches and Vale of Aylesbury Housing Trust
  • Social housing – although demand for one beds is high and there are long wait times
  • Temporary Accommodation (under the Statutory Homelessness Duty, only for those with a priority need who are not intentionally homeless)
  • Private rented sector – Wycombe Rent Deposit Guarantee Scheme is aimed at single people including ex-rough sleepers; Aylesbury Homeless Action Group support ex rough sleepers into PRS accommodation; council officers will also work with private landlords to secure accommodation for this group
  • Support to EU/EEA Nationals not eligible for public funds: Connection Support have funding from central government to work with this group.

The move to the new Council has also supported the development of further joint working arrangements between the housing and social care services. This includes the introduction of dedicated complex case officers in the new housing service structure, cross-service complex case panels (to review and monitor challenging cases) and the ongoing work with children’s services to support care leavers and other vulnerable young people and their families. These joint working arrangements support the early identification of potential rough sleepers or single person homelessness and help to ensure that appropriate preventative measures are put in place.

Winter provision – measures are in place across the Council area, working with RSI partners. There are slightly different conditions attached to placements; it would be helpful to align these if possible although the differences are not sufficiently material to give rise to any legal challenges. The report for the South area includes a risk assessment which could usefully be extended to the North. Provision in both areas is contingent upon people being sufficiently engaged with support services. Accommodation is being block booked ahead of time to ensure sufficient provision.