Coming together to help street sleepers in Birmingham
If you’ve walked through Birmingham this morning – or in fact any time in recent months – you’ll surely have been struck by a marked increase in people sleeping and living on the streets of our city.
I could just as easily have said London, Manchester, Leeds or Liverpool. The sad fact is that there’s a growing problem in our towns and cities and clearly something needs to change.
Now I’m not going to wash my hands of responsibility here. I think tackling this crisis is a job for a number of agencies: the Government, the council and our many partners across the city.
For our part, Birmingham City Council has continued to protect funding for homeless outreach services and that’s certainly what we’re continuing to do in the latest set of budget proposals.
Current services we commission for vulnerable homeless households include:
- a homeless outreach service which has been a service in operation for 10 years
- drop in welfare services whereby people can access food and showering facilities which has been delivered since April 2011
- immediate access accommodation for vulnerable single people in need of accommodation and support which commenced in December 2014
- Hospital Discharge Pathway Service to support persons being discharged from hospital with no address established in 2014
- Specialist supported accommodation for former offenders which commenced in December 2014
- Refuge provision for victims of domestic abuse
- the Youth Hub which was set up in 2010 to provide advice and support to young people at risk of homelessness
- Housing First programme to support entrenched street homeless people into their accommodation with intensive wrap around support
But circumstances beyond our control, including the impact of welfare reforms, mean that the problem continues to grow.
We’re constantly looking to strengthen the services we provide and part of that is very much about working with others. It’s about the work we do with businesses in the city, with our partners in the public sector – whether that’s the police or the health sector – and of course how we work with that fantastic army of volunteers out there.
There are some great people, great active citizens, faith groups and others, who are going out into the city night after night to provide support to people who find themselves in the awful position of sleeping on the street. We need to be doing all we can to support the great work that they’re doing and ensuring we’re pulling all our resources together as a city.
Last Saturday I went to the Birmingham Food Drive at Carrs Lane Methodist Church and it was a privilege to be among people who really are step-up citizens in Birmingham, putting themselves out to care for their fellow Brummies. These people are doing this every day of the year, every evening, especially at this time of the year.
It was tough to see ordinary Brummies who are having to rely on this kind of help. But I was inspired by those inspiring people who were step-up citizens caring for people in Birmingham in need of help.
On New year’s Day I went to four soup kitchens in the city centre. It was a particularly cold day after a relatively mild December and, in addition to homeless people, there were people who were having to make a decision on whether to heat or eat. If you saw the queues of people who were in desperate deep need, as I’m sure some of you have, you’ll have realised there’s something going on here and it’s not right.
We’ll work harder than ever to help those in need in our city and one issue that certainly needs addressing is the housing crisis. We need thousands of new affordable homes across Birmingham and I’ve already stated that as my number one priority.
In the meantime, quite clearly, there are real problems in this city, as there are in other big cities around this country, which indicates there is something going on nationally that needs to be dealt with.
That’s a challenge not just for our towns and cities but for the Government and the plunging temperatures this week underline why failure is not an option.