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How homelessness can be tackled in the West Midlands by following Finland

By Pete Madeley | Politics | Published:

A scheme that would see council homes given up to rough sleeping drug addicts will prove to be 'a good investment', the West Midlands Mayor has claimed.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street

Andy Street wants the West Midlands to be the national pilot scheme for Housing First, an initiative the gives free accommodation to people who live on the streets in a bid to help them rebuild their lives.

The scheme, which the Government will pay £15 million to fund over three years, requires local authorities in the Black Country to give up housing stock.

Conservative Mr Street recently visited Finland, where he saw how the project had helped to drastically reduce rough sleeping in the nation's capital, Helsinki.

He said: "The issue is having the money to secure the places in accommodation that I think we could make available across the West Midlands.

"But what we are applying for is the funding to actually then pay for that accommodation.

"That's why we have put our application into Government to be the pilot in the UK of this scheme."

Mr Street said the scheme was unlikely to use individual council houses and would instead 'be looking at shared accommodation in blocks of apartments'.

"This is not about robbing existing local authority budgets," he added.

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"If people using the service started to earn some cash, there is a possibility they could start to make a contribution to it themselves."

"We are saying this would be a good investment because there are many, many hidden costs of the rough sleeping challenge that we have, particularly with all the services that are provided to people on the streets, how they are very significant costs.

"If we do this, we can help people rebuild their lives. That is a good investment."

During his trip to Finland Mr Street spoke to former homeless people who had got their lives back on track thanks to Housing First.

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The scheme cost the Finnish government 240m euros and has seen recorded long-term homelessness slashed by 43 per cent.

When he was elected Mayor in May, Mr Street pledged to make tackling homelessness his top priority.

Mr Street warned there could be no half measures if the region was successful in landing the pilot.

"We've got to be very realistic about this," he said. "This can't just be a sticking plaster. We've really got to ask ourselves are we willing to make a similar commitment [to Finland]?

"They have invested a lot of money in this and that is part of the reason why I wanted to see it for myself.

"I think the approach could be successful in the West Midlands, but we can't be naive and think that we can just copy it exactly.

"We've got to make it appropriate so that it meets the issues we have here.

"It can't just be seen as a silver bullet and we must make sure we put in place all the right measures to prevent people from falling through the cracks.

"But I think we should try and develop it to be a success."

Rough sleeping is a growing problem in the West Midlands. Last year there were 132 people recorded as sleeping rough across the region, up five per cent from the previous year.

The region is also in the grip of a council house shortage. In 2016 in Wolverhampton more than 8,300 people were on the waiting list for just 69 available council homes across the city.

In Sandwell the waiting list was around 6,000 and in Walsall it was 8,600.

Pete Madeley

By Pete Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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