How the city council deals with rough sleepers
15 March, 2019
• YOUR coverage of two rough sleeping stories (‘Scoop them up’ row over leader’s stance and Theatre staff pay tribute to ‘kind and gentle’ homeless man) are, I fear, at risk of giving Westminster Extra readers a skewed picture of how the city council works to help rough sleepers.
It is obvious to anyone who walks around Westminster that rough sleeper numbers are rising. What may not be obvious to residents is the city council works 365 days a year to offer help to rough sleepers and spends more than any other local authority in the country – £6.5million – to provide that support.
To give a couple of examples. We have 30 people out talking to and engaging with rough sleepers every night and they will speak to around 2,500 people this year.
The council offers 415 bed spaces each night with a further 25 emergency beds paces reserved for those released from hospital or prison. When cold weather snaps hit, we provide an extra 100 spaces.
Many of those sleeping rough have problems with drugs or alcohol, and our staff are able to get them help and counselling to deal with those addictions.
Where new rough sleepers engage with these services, the vast majority – 97 per cent – never return to the streets. That is a record of saving lives I am happy to defend.
There is however a difficult reality to face when rough sleepers refuse to engage with the services that could save their lives and instead opt to live in tents on our streets.
It is worth noting that of those sleeping rough in Westminster on a typical night, only a tiny minority – three per cent – have any historic connection to the city. More than half are from eastern European countries, a figure we have seen rise sharply in recent months.
Council street teams cannot make rough sleepers accept help. Where they won’t, it must be an option to help them return to their home countries in Europe where they can access social services, GPs and networks of friends and families. That, surely, is a more humane course of action than allowing people to risk their lives by remaining on the street.
CLLR NICKIE AIKEN
Leader, Westminster City Council