Read Emma’s speech to Kaizen event

May 30, 2014

Emma Lewell-Buck 09 smallEmma recently spoke to a Kaizen event about the challenges of tackling homelessness in South Shields.  Emma spoke about the great work agencies like South Tyneside Homes, the South Tyneside Churches KEY Project and others are doing to link up their services and identify rough sleepers and support them into accommodation.

The event was an opportunity for agencies from across the local area to share their evidence and expertise to help South Tyneside Council prevent homelessness and develop its housing strategy.

Emma’s speech is below:

“Good morning everyone, thank you for inviting me here today to speak in recognition of the amazing work you have already done in supporting young homeless people and how we can extend this good practice to support our homeless families and adults.   

“South Tyneside Homes, Places for People, Tyne Housing, Changing Lives, South Tyneside Churches Key Project and De Paul all work in close partnership to ensure our vulnerable young people are given enough support to ensure they do not become homeless and sleeping on the streets.   As a result of this strong partnership I genuinely feel we have very few young people on our streets, sadly what we do have is an increase in rough sleepers over the 25 years age group.   Yet studies have noted that the reasons for homelessness and rough sleeping are generally the same across the age span. 

“As you are all probably aware nationally and locally the collection of data in relation to homelessness can be difficult, this becomes even more fraught when looking at rough sleepers.  Homelessness figures are generally those deemed statutorily homeless by their local authority, this approach has been criticised by charities such as Shelter and Crisis as it excludes a large proportion of homeless who do not meet the statutory criteria and those who do not approach their local authority for help. 

“In terms of rough sleepers the figures can be very arbitrary, they are hand counted on a set night, but it is widely acknowledged that this figure is only an indication of the problem not the full scale.

“As of this December 2013 there were fifty seven thousand five hundred and fifty households living in accommodation arranged for them by their local authority under homelessness provisions, and families with children living in bed and breakfasts are at a ten year high.

“There are currently an estimated two thousand four hundred and fourteen people sleeping rough in England, both these figures have risen since the Coalition came to power and are predicted to continue to rise. 

“Throughout my career I have spoken to many homeless people and each story I am told always leads me back to one fact and one fact alone, that becoming homeless and living on the streets can happen to any one of us, homeless and rough sleepers are not people who were once upon a time like us, they are us.  

“The homeless people I have come into contact with whilst often in despair have a determination and strength to survive and a hope things will improve that is rarely seen, yet in this country we have become shamefully accustomed to seeing people living on the street, as this problem deepens due to the economic crisis and difficult times people are facing I don’t want us to continue to be accustomed I want us to be outraged and strive for change.

“In 2011 St Mungo’s homelessness charity conducted the largest ever national survey of street outreach workers and rough sleepers.  Their findings will be of no surprise to those of you in this room. 

“They found that relationship breakdown is the largest single trigger of rough sleeping, that there is a rise in the number of rough sleepers with mental health problems and that despite there being less women sleeping rough than men, women who do so are overwhelmingly those escaping from violent relationships. 

“What was common amongst the people in their study was that had preventative and coordinated services been in place they would never have become homeless, and they certainly wouldn’t have ended up on the streets, more often than not those who are rough sleeping have been failed by public services and once they are on the streets they become difficult to engage with due to their transient lifestyle a worsening of their conditions, or they become reliant on substances to simply get through the day

“This all leads to them being placed in the too difficult to work with pile and never getting the help they need.

“This scenario is common for those rough sleepers who have complex mental health difficulties, generally those who have suffered trauma either in their childhood or adulthood and as a result have serious enduring mental health conditions and use substances. 

“Statutory services will not work with people who are using drugs or alcohol yet these are the people who need the most help.  I know from experience these can be challenging people to work with, but ultimately just because they are challenging does not mean our country can continue to ignore their needs, we need an urgent rethink in how services support these clients.  We need more people to come together like you all have today.

“Under this Coalition we have seen cuts to mental health services, desecration of the supporting people budget, cuts to benefits, the loss of more than four thousands homeless bed spaces, cuts to domestic violence services and rises in long term unemployment, and for those fortunate to have a job simply not enough money in their pay packets to live.     

“It makes no sense for services to be cut in this way when their absence exacerbates homelessness, the cost of one homeless person on average every year is estimated to be up to thirty thousand pounds, and surely this money would be better invested in these services.

“But homelessness as rightly recognised by today’s event is not only about single people, at the last count in December 2013 there were over two thousand one hundred families living in Bed and Breakfast accommodation, many of whom had been there well over the legal six week limit. Many of these families have nowhere to go to and are living in squalid and dangerous places with their children in tow.   Charities expressed concern throughout the passage of the Welfare Reform Act that this would happen but the government failed to listen, last year I feared we could be on the cusp of seeing not only single people sleeping rough but families too, sadly it looks like these fears are being realised.

“The last Labour Government pledged to end rough sleeping by 2012, we introduced the Homelessness Act and the Rough Sleepers Unit, as a result homelessness fell every year from 2003 to 2010, we are now in different economic circumstances and can not rely on our current Government to help.

“But here in South Tyneside we don’t wait for the government to legislate to make a difference we do it ourselves, the homeless consortium I launched last year, the Young person’s Kizen and now today the coming together of our adult Kizen embodies the hard work and determination of the people in South Tyneside.

“The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Homeless Link fund that the route to rough sleeping is staggered, often beginning with a troubled childhood, followed by substance misuse at a young age then a progression over seven to eight years of living in hostels and presenting as homeless to their local authority, all along this path there are missed opportunities.  They found the average age for people to sleep rough for the first time is twenty six years old.

“Key Project, Depaul UK and Places for People already do great work with the Council and South Tyneside Homes by working together you know you are stronger at targeting those on that downward path, by working with sixteen to twenty four year olds and their families you are preventing our children ever reaching that twenty sixth year when they might sleep rough for the first time.  But today is an acknowledgement that we do have people over that twenty sixth year who are sleeping rough on our streets.

“The prevention, early intervention and ongoing support offered by the Kizen is a model I am proud to have in my constituency and I am sure will be replicated by other areas.  I am also sure you will continue to have success in minimising homelessness in our area.

“I have already met with some of you in this room since my election to see what further things we can do to tackle homelessness in our town, I really feel that with your passion and dedication together we can make a difference because even one person on our streets is one person too many and I am determined we can change this.” 

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