North Somerset Council is working ‘day in, day out’ to prevent homelessness

PUBLISHED: 17:00 22 January 2018

Some of the good Samaritans who have been out visiting the homeless.

Some of the good Samaritans who have been out visiting the homeless.

Archant

Good Samaritans and councillors have accused North Somerset Council of ‘not doing enough’ for the homeless, but council managers say their teams ‘work their socks off’ to prevent people sleeping rough.

Andy who shelters from the winter weather in the open air shelters along Weston sea front.Andy who shelters from the winter weather in the open air shelters along Weston sea front.

The council works alongside community outreach groups such as the YMCA and St Mungo’s to ensure the district’s most vulnerable people have a roof over their heads.

The council came under fire last week after a group of volunteers who had been feeding the homeless during the cold winter accused the authority of ‘not doing enough’ for people who are treated ‘worse than criminals’.

But officers say people can go to Weston-super-Mare Town Hall to meet with a housing advice officer who will explore all avenues to find help.

Housing advice manager Lynn Trigg said: “Rough sleepers will come to us directly or through agencies and community outreach groups.

“We do an assessment of a person’s physical and mental health and if there is anything which makes them particularly vulnerable.”

Some people are offered interim accommodation while others are linked up to other services like Addaction and Somewhere To Go.

Community response manager Fay Powell and her team take part in weekly street community meetings, with representatives from the police, YMCA and St Mungo’s, to talk about each rough sleeper in the area and ways to help them.

Reporter Eleanor Young sat down with Lynn (LT) and Fay (FP) to find out more...

Day centre manager Joan Eales (centre) with volunteers Tanya Potapchuk and Meg Hill.Day centre manager Joan Eales (centre) with volunteers Tanya Potapchuk and Meg Hill.

What do you make of people accusing the council ‘not doing enough’?

LT: There has been a lot of negativity but there is so much we do. My team work their socks off day-in day-out because they want to help people. They go over and above to help rough sleepers.

FP: It is hard to see Facebook comments which say we do nothing because we know we do a lot for them.

How do you tell beggars and the homeless apart?

LT: You cannot. As a member of the public there is no way of knowing whether they are a genuine rough sleeper. We carry out weekly counts to ensure we get accurate figures.

FP: Everyone in the seafront shelter has been offered support and we know each individual, their date of birth, we know their connection, situations and their dependencies, whether they have any mental health issues.

There have been reports of some possessions being taken when they are unattended – what is the reason behind this?

FP: This has been in place for a while now and is in partnership with the police and the Town Centre Partnership team as we were getting reports of unattended items on public highways so they are removed, bagged and tagged and we invite the owners to come and collect them.

If they are genuinely homeless and they come to collect it, it gives us a chance to engage.

LT: Usually, rough sleepers will usually have just enough stuff to carry on their back as they will not stay in the same place. These are their worldly possessions and they will not want to risk them being left for others to pick up.

FP: We have a lot of blankets, sleeping bags and food which has been left and never collected. We would love for the people who do want to donate practical items to speak to Somewhere To Go and see what essentials they need.

Would the council back calls for a night shelter?

LT: It would be beneficial to have a night shelter in the area so, absolutely, we will do whatever we can to help an organisation if they want to get one off the ground.

How much does the council put into its homelessness initiatives?

LT: We have £56,000 a year grant which we use for homelessness prevention as well as a budget to provide vulnerable people with emergency accommodation.

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