Framework's view on Nottingham 'homeless camp'

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05 Jan 2016
by Andrew Redfern

Hardly a day has passed since Christmas without someone asking me what I think about the tents that have appeared on Station Street in Nottingham.  Since New Year’s Day their occupants have begun to move to a second ‘homeless camp’ near the Broadmarsh Centre.       

As regards homelessness, what really matters is not what I think but what many of us know.  It is certainly rising.  Rough sleeping, for instance, was 55% higher in November 2014 than in November 2010 across the country as a whole.  Anecdotal evidence suggests the trend is accelerating, and I expect the November 2015 official figures (when they are released) to confirm this.  So why is this happening?  

A severe national housing shortage is one factor.  But single homelessness, and rough sleeping in particular, are more complicated than that.  As the camp organisers have pointed out it is frequently associated with mental health problems, alcohol & substance misuse, domestic violence and other complications.  This is why the opening of warehouses, factories and empty office buildings does not of itself offer a solution. 

Sadly, central Government has developed effective programmes in the recent past, only to ignore the evidence and abandon them for no good reason.  The best example was Supporting People – which delivered joined-up services for ten years after the second millennium until its national funding was dissipated in the name of localism.  The large, sustained reduction in homelessness and rough sleeping between 2003 and 2010 was no coincidence.  Neither is the subsequent increase in both. 

It should go without saying that Framework regards homelessness as unacceptable in a civilised society.  More than that – it is preventable for less money than it costs to address the problem once it occurs.  Anyone pointing this out would normally have our strong support.  So why don’t we offer it to the camp organisers?            

The answer is that we are supporting those people living in the tents who genuinely need it.  This caveat is necessary because some occupants (a majority of those our outreach workers have been able to see) have other accommodation that is currently available to them.  This takes a variety of forms, some of it supported or temporary in nature.  The best advice we can give to a person with access to a bed, a roof over their head, central heating and clean running water is to use them.  Such facilities are, at worst, a good starting point for successful resettlement to permanent housing.  They can be a lifesaver.  Vulnerable people with serious health conditions should not be encouraged to sleep in tents when better alternatives exist.  

The camp organisers say that some of those they are seeing have been asked to leave their family home, social or private tenancy through no fault of their own.  Again, the best place to signpost these people in the first instance is not a tent on Cliff Road.  It is Nottingham City Council’s Housing Aid Service on Lower Parliament Street.  I accept that the legislation on statutory homelessness is complex and local connection may be an issue, indeed Framework has argued the case for legislative change in both respects.  But even if the Council can’t help, we or another voluntary organisation may be able to do so.   

It is suggested that some people find themselves sleeping rough because hostels and supported housing providers can’t cope with their drink or drug problems.  As far as I am concerned and speaking only for Framework services this is not the case.  

What we don’t tolerate (but do sometimes have to cope with) is persistent anti-social behaviour that may culminate in aggression or acts of violence towards staff and/or residents.  Our services are staffed by people who demonstrate their care and commitment on a daily basis.  Our duty to them and the wider community means that sometimes, in extremis, a person is asked to leave.  

Nottingham City Council supports a range of specialist provision targeting different needs, carries out its own assessments and makes referrals in the light of them.  We and other providers maintain a healthy, and on occasions robust dialogue with the City to try and ensure the allocations are appropriate – in other words that people access the services that best meet their needs.  Specialist supported housing is complemented by a continuing commitment to street outreach and homelessness prevention work in Nottingham.  This, it has to be said, does not exist in other places. 

Consequently, the rise in rough sleeping that Nottingham has recently experienced is less severe than in other cities.  Incidentally, and to correct something erroneously reported, the figure is not ‘consistently in single figures’.  It varies from the low single figures to the mid and occasionally high teens, with a small upward trend in the average over the past twelve months. 

The camp organisers say it is not a protest.  The commissioners of services in the City, who are doing their best in very difficult circumstances, will be heartened to know this.  If there is to be a protest, it should be conducted responsibly and pointed in the right direction.  The decisions being taken by some local authorities to de-commission vital front-line services, whether entirely or in part, will cause homelessness to increase.  They will also intensify the local connection issue. 

At the heart of the problem is a pretence that homelessness and rough sleeping are being tackled effectively at a national level.  On the contrary, the damage already being done will be exacerbated by a new government policy to cut dramatically the level of Housing Benefit payable to people living in supported housing.  Its impact will be to make all such provision unviable from April 2018, de-stabilising the lives of some 400,000 people across the country.  This is really something to protest about.

(9) Comments

  • Alec Cohen
    05 January 2016, 17:21

    Hello. im one of the guys organizing this camp. i phoned and left a message so we can work together to identifie our residents needs, and for us to work along side each other. we are aware that a camp or a empty building is not ideal. but nither is sleeping in a bin or doorstep. so until all homeless are safe and secure. the camp will stay to protect the homeless and work with them to help change there mental state so they can stay clean of drugs and alcohol. and keep there homes and not end up back on the streets. we hope to hear from you soon.

  • Anonymous commenter
    05 January 2016, 18:26

    These people staying on your 'camp site' are 'campers' not residents. This campsite is not at all protecting the Homeless and unless you have qualified medical professionals in the areas you speak of (mental health and substance abuse) then you can not claim that you can help people to change their mental state or substance abuse problems. Your campsite is not keeping people safe and secure, all it is doing is stopping people from accessing services which you say you can provide but you can't. I have worked within the Homeless Comminity for over 15 years and believe me what your doing is having a detrimental effect on the Homeless Community, for example, people are leaving their beds in secure Hostel Accommodation to live in a tent on a building site because they don't have to pay a service charge therefore have more money to spend on drink and substances. How do you think this is helping anyone? One more thing, how long do you honestly think your campsite will last? Because when it's eventually closed down which it inevitably will be, what will all your campers do then? I think what you are doing is ludicrous and you obviously have no experience in this field at all.

  • Ned Ludd
    06 January 2016, 10:04

    Hopefully Framework will embrace Alec's offer and dialogue can replace conflict.

  • Anonymous commenter
    06 January 2016, 12:15

    As a housing professional I applaud any effort to highlight the plight of local housing provision and the effect of cuts to local services. However, a cursory review of the facebook pages of these "protestors" highlights their unhelpful attititudes, referring to policeman as "pigs" and abusing council staff as well as seeming to jump on any current news topic worthy of protesting against undermines your arguments and seems to support the view that some of these individuals are protestors for protests sake........

  • Framework
    06 January 2016, 15:38

    In response to Alec we have passed your details to the outreach team who will be in touch with you to talk some more.

  • Anonymous commenter
    06 January 2016, 16:57

    I dont feel the claim that this site is safe or keeping people safe can be justified. Their are no assessments of risk or need by qualified and skilled personnel. There are no plans for individual action to help people. There is no recognition that the risks some poeple present with are better managed by the hugely skilled, talented and committed staff that already exist within the Faith, Charity and Housing Sectors in the City. Even Framework need permission from the organisers to go onsite and offer help and support. I am really concerned that vulnerable people are being drawn into this camp and as Mr Redfern points out perhaps they should be using the support that has been set up for them . I'm glad there has been so much debate about rough sleeping as its the most extreme and dangerous form of homelessness but the encampment is not offering anything to those it says it wants to help. I guess it does make the people running it feel better about themselves though. Is that it's real purpose?

  • Anonymous commenter
    06 January 2016, 20:40

    It always amazes me how someone declaring homelessness and destitute Ann afford to have an iPad or iPhone to use Facebook and other social media to vent their anger on and basically be a pain in the neck.

  • Anonymous commenter
    06 January 2016, 20:50

    Well done Framework. Keep up the good work.x

  • Mark Lilley
    06 January 2016, 22:07

    Andrew it's refreshing to see you are still challenging the real challenges of vulnerability in homelessness the pretence that its being sorted and that we are only seeing the preamble to the disabling of thousands citizens with the future cuts. Kind regards Mark

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