Fund new approaches to tackling homelessness
Homelessness is a serious issue in Dorset, as it is in other parts of the UK, and this was the focus of the first PCC Problem Solving Forum.
The OPCC facilitated the event in October 2017, with help from the Bournemouth Council of Voluntary Services, who drew together a number of organisations to discuss ideas and innovations in relation to local homelessness issues.
Homelessness, particularly rough sleeping and associated issues like begging and street drinking, was a high profile issue in Bournemouth at the time, which has since escalated in other parts of the county.
At the time of the event, plans to reform the local government arrangements in Dorset were at an advanced stage, and these uncertainties made it difficult for local authorities to contribute to the forum.
The PCC identified veterans and ex-offenders as particular groups of homeless people and rough sleepers in need of further support.
The forum identified a number of ideas and proposals for further consideration and action. The following provides a summary of some of the key areas of progress as a result.
Enhanced partnership working – through the creation of a multi-agency homelessness reduction steering group, with an initial key focus on the implementation of, and ongoing progress against, the duty to refer element of the Homelessness Prevention Act 2018.
An offender housing strategic planning group focused on offender accommodation has also been established. This group specifically looks at the challenges facing ex-offenders in securing and maintaining stable accommodation which is an essential element of any meaningful rehabilitation.
Beyond the forum, and following the local government restructure in Dorset, the PCC has met the new local authority chief executives to discuss a number of areas of shared concern, including reducing re-offending through stable accommodation. The recent creation of the South West Reducing Reoffending Board in 2019 also allows for PCCs and other senior stakeholders to discuss approaches to resolving shared problems such as accommodation for ex-offenders
Veterans’ accommodation – an initial idea to explore individual containerised living units for homeless individuals evolved into a pilot scheme for veterans. This involves working with the YMCA to provide accommodation and associated support for homeless veterans, with move on accommodation available from Pivotal Housing once they are ready for greater independence, and early indications are that the project is working well. The veterans, some of whom have PTSD and alcohol issues and have been through the criminal justice system, are receiving appropriate help along with training and skills from the Above and Beyond Trust to assist with future employment. Further information on our wider work with veterans can be found under Pillar 1 – Protecting People at Risk of Harm.
Prison through the gate service – funding approved for 18 months for Circles South West to deliver a ‘through the gate’ resettlement service for prisoners being released from HMP The Verne.
Exploring future ideas – other ideas that continue to be explored include the potential for establishing a multi-agency homelessness hub, consideration of a ‘passport’ scheme for homeless individuals to provide a comprehensive overview of their situation, and scoping an idea around ‘live and work’ units to support younger people into affordable housing associated with setting up their own small business. Much of this is reliant on the new councils finalising their homelessness strategies.
Improving housing standards – the forum identified improving housing provision and standards particularly within the private rented sector as a key factor. The PCC has supported Operation Galaxy in Bournemouth, a partnership approach to reducing anti social behaviour, criminality, housing disrepair, housing management issues and fire risk. The Commissioner has also lobbied in support of proposed selective licensing schemes for Bournemouth and Weymouth.
Community grants – during the term the PCC has issued a number of Community Grants to support local homelessness initiatives. This includes Street Support – online mapping of outreach and support services for the homeless and the Second Half Scheme which teaches practical carpentry skills to former rough sleepers. It also includes the Lantern Project in Weymouth – an ex-offenders housing and resettlement project providing advice and guidance on finding accommodation – as well as Friends for the Future – a drop-in advice session for homeless people in Boscombe. There have also been applications from the Lantern Trust, Faith Works and Julian’s House to support winter 2019/20 rough sleeping projects working with vulnerable homeless individuals.