Presentations from Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council (Head of Housing and Health – Linda Hibbs; and/or Housing Options and Support Manager – Claire Keeling) and the Bridge Trust (John Handley) covering:
- Homelessness Reduction Act
- Severe Weather Emergency Policy
- Rough Sleeping
- Work Preventing Homelessness in Tonbridge
For awareness the Chairman (Councillor Nicolas Heslop) advised that he was a Trustee of the Bridge Trust.
The Housing Options and Support Manager (Claire Keeling) and the Head of Housing and Health (Linda Hibbs) set out measures for supporting the homeless. The Borough Council’s work on preventing homelessness in Tonbridge and Malling was also set out.
As a result of the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act in 2018, which transformed the way local authorities helped homeless households, the emphasis was now on prevention at an early stage. Local authorities were required to take reasonable steps to prevent eligible households threatened with homelessness becoming homeless (Prevention duty); to take reasonable steps to secure accommodation for them for six months (Relief duty) and had a duty to provide advisory services.
The numbers of rough sleepers had risen nationally and within Tonbridge and Malling this had risen from 8 individuals in 2017 to 12 in 2018. This represented a 50% increase. It was reported that most authorities in Kent had seen an increase in the numbers of rough sleepers.
Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council planned to introduce greater flexibility around the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP). When the ‘feel like’ temperature fell below 0 degrees for one night (not three nights as previously) the SWEP would be implemented and would be for a longer period of accommodation. The role of SWEP was emphasised and it was important for agencies and organisations within Tonbridge to be aware when the Protocol was activated. The Borough Council welcomed any opportunity to increase circulation and awareness if any of the Forum organisations were interested in being notified.
Other initiatives being considered were the establishment of a Rough Sleeper Protocol, which would set out how to report rough sleeping; an early intervention project focused on young men, improved communications and liaison with private landlords and ‘Housing First’ which was a project to secure 3 units of accommodation to move homeless individuals or households immediately from the streets or shelter into their own accommodation. The Borough Council would work with Porchlight, Look Ahead and Clarion Housing Group on delivering these initiatives and funding would be sought from MHCLG.
The Head of Housing and Health advised that the Borough Council were aware of 2 rough sleepers in Tonbridge currently. Members were assured that Housing Services were working hard to tackle issues although it was important to recognise that there were many complex reasons behind homelessness which were sometimes difficult to resolve.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Bridge Trust (John Handley) talked about homelessness from the perspective of the voluntary sector. Nationally there were 274,000 homelessness cases dealt with by local authorities. A major cause was being made homeless from the private rented sector. In addition, there was an estimated 3.38 million couples and single people ‘hidden’ in other households and over 12,800 rough sleepers in England.
Changes to the way Kent County Council commissioned homelessness services would come into effect from April 2019. The Bridge Trust expressed concern that the amount of support available in West Kent would be significantly reduced as a result of these changes.
In response to a question related to the provision of an emergency shelter, it was explained that the Borough Council would explore the feasibility of a shelter in Tonbridge and Malling as part of the bid for MHCLG funding.
Finally it was confirmed that a ‘changing place’ facility, including a shower, at Tonbridge Castle was available for use by a range of people including the homeless.