Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy 2022 to 2025
Buckinghamshire is an attractive area with high employment, and high housing costs. The availability of good quality affordable accommodation to rent and to buy is key to preventing homelessness. A stable home makes it easier to secure and sustain employment, and to manage physical and mental health. As a new local authority, we have set four key priorities, one of which is to reduce homelessness. This strategy will make a significant contribution to reducing homelessness across Buckinghamshire, as well as supporting our key priorities:
- to strengthen our communities
- protect vulnerable households
- improve the environment
- increase prosperity
This strategy represents the first single homelessness strategy document for the Buckinghamshire Council following its creation from 1st April 2020. The strategy has been drafted following on from the intensive work undertaken by the Council in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Government’s ‘Everyone In’ initiative during 2020/21 required all local authorities to take urgent action to house rough sleepers, and those at risk of rough sleeping, in order to protect people’s health and reduce wider transmission of Covid-19. This required ‘self-contained’ rooms with minimal sharing of facilities to enable people to practise social distancing and self-isolate, as appropriate. Partnership working between local authorities, voluntary-sector organisations and partners within the localities supported rough sleepers and those at risk of rough sleeping into the most appropriate type of accommodation available. Over 300 individuals were accommodated across Buckinghamshire during the “Everybody In” initiative. As a result of this work under ‘Everybody In’, the Council and its partners has supported the majority of these persons to subsequently move on to alternate accommodation, including supported housing and private rented accommodation. Providing both this immediate and longer term accommodation is a key part of an overall response evidenced to have prevented deaths and hospital admissions among those experiencing or at risk of homelessness. In September 2020, there was further allocations to local authorities to pay for immediate support to ensure that vulnerable people supported during the pandemic did not return to the streets. To date, the Council has moved clients on to a wide range of accommodation options.
As well as the options that were already in place pre-pandemic, 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. This includes the Ardenham House scheme in Aylesbury which provides 9 self-contained units for medium/high support needs clients opened in April 2021 and was a project delivered by Hightown Housing Association and supported with funding from NSAP.
Within Buckinghamshire, our already strong history of working with our stakeholders (the many voluntary and charitable sector organisations who deliver vital services, including our housing association partners) enabled this pandemic response to house our most vulnerable to operate a smoothly as possible. This has built upon the strong foundations of our regularly held Rough Sleeper core group meetings in High Wycombe and our two Homelessness Forums, which operate in the North and the South of the county. The Homelessness Forums allows regular policy and performance updates from the Council to be shared with stakeholders and partnership agencies. This sits alongside regular monitoring, intervention and scrutiny as part of the Rough Sleepers Initiative and demonstrates the Council’s commitment to and participation in measures to prevent homelessness wherever possible and relieve homelessness where necessary to do so. This has meant that in the annual rough sleeper counts since November 2017 the snapshot of the amount of people sleeping rough across the county had dropped from 36 in 2017 to less than 5 in November 2021
In 2020/21, the first full year of operation for the new authority, around 2,000 households approached us for help. This number was no doubt reduced because of the impact of Covid and some of the temporary safety nets which were put in place. The Covid legislation that initially delayed evictions (except in the most severe cases of antisocial behaviour) and was later amended to require landlords to provide 6 months’ notice prior to evicting households, had an impact on these figures. These factors may have a bearing on an increase in evictions in future months following to end of the safety net measures and associated support needs which will be required.
Of those households who approached the Council for assistance during 2020/21, we were able to prevent over half becoming homeless, through interventions with landlords, assistance with debt and arrears, and mediation to allow people to remain in their homes for longer. We were able to ‘relieve’ homelessness with a planned move to alternative accommodation for around a third of households. The numbers who became statutorily homeless and were owed a main duty under the legislation were, therefore, relatively small. But the impact of homelessness affects a much greater number of people: families, friends and others in the community who work to offer support. It also negatively impacts on other public services, particularly the health and criminal justice services. Homelessness adversely affects employment, education and the quality of life for the residents of Buckinghamshire.
This Homelessness Strategy builds on strong foundations put into place by the former local authorities who came together to form the new Buckinghamshire Council. It will reflect the wider shared priorities and goals that will come forward within the forthcoming planned Buckinghamshire Housing Strategy This forthcoming strategy will act as guide for potential investment and a framework for housing project management, meeting locally identified accommodation needs, including the addressing wider support needs that contribute to individual experiences of homelessness. It is aligned to various health and wellbeing priorities, at a national, and local level, because good housing is a closely linked healthy communities.
The Homelessness Strategy and the future Housing Strategy will also feed into the construction of the Buckinghamshire Local Plan which must be produced by April 2025. One of the central functions of the Local Plan is to ensure an adequate and continuous supply of land for housing development but must also recognise that any new housing development is consistent with the Green Belt and other environmental objectives of the Plan.
The Homelessness Strategy also builds on the strong partnership history with stakeholders and partner agencies, who have provided valuable contribution to this during its consultation process. Working together with our partners we can successfully prevent homelessness for many households, and ensure that necessary support is in place for those households who do face losing their home. We will also identify suitable options and work with partner agencies to support our most vulnerable residents and address their support needs appropriately. This includes effective joint working across different Council service areas such as Housing and Social Care. One example of this is the Council receiving funding to employ a Housing Occupational Therapist to work within the Housing Team to assist with timely adaptations and plans for changes to accommodation to assist those with health and disability needs (potentially averting a potential homelessness situation at a later date to accommodation no longer being suitable to occupy)