27 rough sleepers were counted in Cambridge in the November 2018 rough sleeper count, one up one from 2017. Figures fell in some UK cities, suggesting that the problem is susceptible to local action. Market Cllrs Tim Bick and Nichola Harrison have published an update to their 2018 report.
March 2019 Update
What we learned in 2018
For our enquiry we interviewed numerous people living or spending time on the street, as well as 35 organisations/teams working in this field locally and nationally. We learned that this is a complex set of problems, with serious substance abuse and mental illness, often combined, now a growing issue. This can lead to chaotic behaviour and begging to buy drugs, and can reduce people’s motivation to get off and stay off the street. Progress can be desperately slow and fragile, even with high quality personal support. We found:
- a remarkable range of good quality services in Cambridge, providing accommodation, basic welfare, specialist interventions and medical support;
- active participation by the Police, but a lack of resources and difficult system for enforcing against street crime and anti-social behaviour.
- a strong sense of commitment and spirit of partnership among the people working in the field, but the need for a clearer vision and more systematic, leadership and service co-ordination.
Successes from our report
We’re not claiming all the credit, but we’re pleased to report progress with several of our recommendations:
- A review of Supported Housing provision is underway. We proposed this to ensure that services match needs and meet best practice.
- Plans are going ahead for Housing First as we recommended – a concept offering an independent home and intensive support to entrenched rough sleepers who do not succeed in the usual housing pathway.
- We are pleased to see increased promotion of the Street Aid scheme, which enables people to donate to homelessness charities rather than give cash to beggars.
- Our proposal for extended street outreach services to operate during evenings and weekends seems set to be implemented.
- We understand that our suggestion for a more person-centred support approach, giving continuity to clients, is being considered.
- Our call for the creation of a dedicated problem-solving role within the Police has been implemented.
What still needs to change
We’re clear that some of our other recommendations should be implemented. We’re continuing to push for:
The Cambridge Rough Sleeping and Street Life Charter, based on clear principles, to foster understanding and a sense of common purpose among the city’s political leaders and in the wider community. The Police have expressed support, but the City Council has rejected the idea.
- A Peer Mentoring scheme to enable former rough sleepers to provide support and advice to others. We have been told no resources are available for this.
- Closer working between the City Council and the Police on enforcement activity. We have seen no sign of progress with this and are concerned that the Police move from Parkside will not help.
- The design of safer drug injecting syringes, which shield the needle when discarded, in order to protect the general public, especially children.
Councillors Tim Bick of Cambridge City Council and Nichola Harrison of Cambridgeshire County Council have published the results of their enquiry into rough sleeping and street life issues in Cambridge.
As local councillors, we know that local residents are distressed and concerned about the increase in rough sleeping and street life issues in Cambridge in recent times. They want to understand what is going on, what is being done about it and what more could be done - and this report tries to offer some answers.
In our enquiry, we talked with many people working in this field locally and elsewhere, as well as with people who have experience of living on the street. They told us about the range of problems that drive homelessness, including mental illness, substance misuse, family breakdown, domestic abuse, financial loss and debt. They explained how the increasing severity of mental illness and drug addictions among people on the street is making it more difficult for those individuals to engage positively with support and recovery services. We also learned how the growth in expensive drug addictions is fuelling street begging and our report considers how our community might respond to that.
We found a wide range of local services aimed at enabling people on the street to take up accommodation and access other support and treatment. The organisations involved include charities, housing associations, the councils, the NHS and others, working as a loose partnership on many issues. We found a strong spirit of commitment and collaboration among them, not least within the numerous front-line outreach services on the street.
Substantial basic welfare support is available, but many services focus particularly on progress and recovery rather than help that might only sustain the status quo. On this principle, much effort is applied to engaging with people who find it hard or are reluctant to make changes in their lives. Gone are the days when a bed at a night shelter was all rough sleepers could expect – these days support is aimed at meeting the overall needs of the person, to give them the best chance of maintaining progress and avoiding a recurrence of homelessness.
Accommodation provision in the city operates as a ‘pathway’ - from assessment and short-term accommodation, through supported accommodation to independent tenancies. The pathway has some flexibility for people who find its requirements difficult to accept, but, nevertheless, some people do not manage to stay on track and others are unwilling to engage at all. Whether that choice can be seen as a rational expression of free will, or only a by-product of desperate personal problems, must be judged case by case. We considered other ethical and practical questions like this, such as whether giving money to beggars is a productive way to help and whether rough sleeping can ever be eradicated.
Cambridge people are generally tolerant of non-conformity and their main concern is about the welfare of people on the street. However, many are also concerned about anti-social behaviour and problems like discarded drug injecting needles, and we consider these issues in the report.
You can read the full report on the web here.