Official figures reveal Porchlight’s hard work in reducing numbers of rough sleepers

January 15, 2013

Despite increasing demand, the number of people sleeping rough on a typical night across Kent has reduced thanks to a new service being run by a leading homelessness social enterprise that encourages members of the public to inform them about the location of people that need help.

Last year it was estimated that 123 people were sleeping rough on a typical night in Kent. This year, figures reveal that number has fallen to 108. This is also the first year that Porchlight has worked in Medway where the estimate is 17. The estimates are reached by local authorities in partnership with Porchlight and other local agencies working with the homeless using guidance and verification from umbrella body Homeless Link. The totals feed directly into national government statistics.

Until 2011 the charity conducted a physical count of rough sleepers under government guidance but always raised concerns about the accuracy of the count given the size of the county to be covered in one night and the knowledge that not everyone known to be rough sleeping would be found.

At the end of 2011 Porchlight received £250k from the Homeless Transition Fund and financial backing from local authorities to help support the national rough sleeping strategy vision to end rough sleeping: No Second Night Out nationwide. Funding allowed the social enterprise to employ 6 additional staff to run a new “reactive” service from April last year.

The social enterprise is concerned that a large number of homeless people are currently staying on friend’s sofas or in unsuitable temporary accommodation and can “all too quickly drop onto the streets” when their welcome runs out. They say that if someone has to sleep rough for too long they can become entrenched in that lifestyle and develop further issues such as drug or alcohol dependency. The new reactive service was developed to tackle this issue.

Porchlight’s rough sleeper team undertakes regular early morning and late night outreach sessions to search for rough sleepers based on intelligence received from calls to its 24-hour helpline and via a feedback form available on its website. Rough sleepers are invited to a safe place such as a local day centre run by a partner agency where an outreach worker assesses the individual’s needs and decides whether they would be best placed into supported accommodation or somewhere more independent. The intention is for a quick and suitable move away from the streets with on-going support to maintain tenancies and enter volunteering, education or employment.

Chris Coffey heads up the charity’s 12-strong rough sleeper team: “Whilst some local authority areas have seen a slight increase in the number of rough sleepers, overall the numbers are down in the face of increasing demand. That is a direct result of our new service and the information provided by the public. Without the service and the full support of local authorities, numbers would have most certainly increased to mirror the national trend.”

Since launching the service in April, calls to the social enterprise’s helpline have almost doubled to over 1,300 a month; they have undertaken 228 street outreach sessions and signed up 236 people who are new to the streets for support. Of those, 28 have been housed in the private rented sector, 40 have moved into supported accommodation and the remainder have taken various routes including reconnection to their area of origin, moving in with friends or taking a local authority tenancy.

Despite significant success Mr Coffey predicts a further increase in demand next year: “We are investing our own resources into the service but changes to the welfare system and the pressures people are facing both financially and emotionally will make demand difficult to meet in the same way next year without continued external funding and support from the public.”

The “Don’t Just Walk Past – Tell Us” campaign gives people the option of calling a 24-hour helpline number 0800 567 76 99 or completing a form on the charity’s website www.porchlight.org.uk/tellus. You will be asked some simple questions about the person you have seen so that the specialist rough sleeper team can easily locate and identify them.

Porchlight’s helpline works in partnership with a new national helpline service launched in December called StreetLink. The new number 0300 500 0914, and website – www.streetlink.org.uk allows concerned members of the public to connect rough sleepers with local advice and services they may not be aware of. Calls made to that number about rough sleepers in Kent or Medway will be directed through to Porchlight.

Homeless Link developed the national hotline in partnership with Broadway. Chief Executive, Rick Henderson, said: “One of the things people tell us a lot is they see people sleeping in doorways, parks or disused garages and they don’t know what to do. We want to harness their desire to help.

“We hope this will make a significant contribution to ending rough sleeping. Importantly, it will help get to people early – to avoid people getting into that cycle of drinking, drugs and antisocial behaviour. The earlier you can get to people, the more likely it is you can cut their career on the streets short.”

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