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Rough sleepers being moved off Black Country streets into empty council homes

By Jamie Brassington | Halesowen | Property | Published:

A £9.6 million Government scheme to tackle homelessness is taking rough sleepers off the streets in parts of the Black Country by using empty council homes.

DUDLEY COPYRIGHT EXPRESS&STAR TIM THURSFIELD- 27/02/20.Housing First is the region’s flagship scheme to tackle rough sleeping, West Midlands mayor Andy Street, visits a house in Halesowen, which is being transformed for a homeless person to live in..He is pictured with Dudley Council deputy leader David Vickers, and Intensive Housing Support Officers Annabel Fuidge(cor) and Diane Kendrick.....

The funding was allocated by the Government to the West Midlands Combined Authority - which has then split up the funding among the four Black Country boroughs and Birmingham.

Dudley has been allocated an estimated £1.2m and the funding is helping to renovate empty council homes for rough sleepers.

So far seventeen people have benefited through the scheme, called Housing First, and another six are on the waiting list.

One such home is located in Halesowen where the interior of the terraced property has been decorated.

Dudley Council's deputy leader David Vickers, also a Halesowen ward councillor, welcomed the benefits it is bringing the people of Dudley.

Councillor Vickers said: "It is an outstanding scheme. We have been troubled with rough sleepers for some time and thus has helped 17 people off the streets of Dudley borough into their own homes where they feel safe.

"As you see, the property is being redeveloped - but it will get better. I think, today, we are going to put the carpets in and things like that; all of which comes through the funding Andy Street (the West Midlands Mayor) has arranged.

"But I'm very proud of this team (housing team at Dudley Council) that has got 17 people off the streets.

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"The person who is moving into this house, perhaps, the one in mind for it, I have known them for 40 odd years and this is what they need.

"They have got problems in their lives and they have deteriorated and have gone down a downhill slope. But now this will pick them up and I hope it works.

"Because it is down to these officers who are on call 24 hours a day if needs be. They are the ones that help them and sort them out, they do a wonderful job."

Dudley Council's housing team offers a service that allows rough sleepers to choose what area of they borough they would like to live in.

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Housing officer Diane Kendrick said: "We are allocating homes (to rough sleepers) case by case, as it is based on personal choice.

"We engage with them and find out where they would like to go, whether they have a preference. One of the very first cases only wanted Stourbridge but unfortunately we couldn't get him a property ready in time, so we offered him Brierley Hill.

"He moved in and he has been successful now for well over a year. He has paid his bills, he is engaging well."

She continued: "We look at the vulnerability of our client but we also assess the needs of who else is in the block somewhere.

"If there is anti-social-behaviour, we wouldn't put a client in there or if there's other drug users in the blocks.

"So as a council, we look at the overall effect it has on, not just our client but also the community they are moving into, so we try and make sure we are not setting them up to fail, that we are giving them the support. But to do that, we have to make sure the property affectively suits them.

"We have housed 17 and we have got six we are offering support to. Those six, also, at some point, be allocated a property in the area they wish to live in, as long as it is suitable for everyone in the community."

Housing First began in 2018 as a three year project to run until 2021. This round of funding from the Government will fund the project's final year. The West Midlands Combined Authority will try and save some of the funding the following year.

However yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans to invest £234m to extent Housing First to benefit 6,000 rough sleepers.

The scheme has helped to reduce rough sleeping across the West Midlands. Welcoming the latest round of Government funding, for this year, Andy Street said: "Homelessness in the West Midlands is an incredibly complex and difficult issue to tackle, but I am pleased today’s figures show that we are making progress.

"Rough sleeping in particular has been shaming us as a region for several years, but thanks to some brilliant collaborative working we are now starting to properly address this.

"This is the fewest rough sleepers we have had on our streets since 2015, and to see the numbers drop by a significant amount is pleasing.

"The Housing First scheme probably lies behind the success we are having."

New figures shows rough sleeping number falling in West Midlands

New figures released today show that levels of homelessness in the Black Country and West Midlands have fallen by 30 per cent in 12 months.

Politicians have heralded a Government scheme aimed at getting rough sleepers off the streets.

Across the whole West Midlands, there has been a 32 per cent decrease, falling from 169 to 115.

The Black Country total dropped from 49 to 34.

The borough with the biggest homelessness problem is Wolverhampton.

A total of 19 people were recorded as being homeless in 2018, but that figure dropped to 14 in 2019, remaining top of the Black Country rankings.

Sandwell was ranked second highest for homelessness in 2018, with 14 rough sleepers accounted for, but this figure reduced to 10 in 2019.

In Walsall, over a 12-month period, the figure almost halved from 11 to five.

Dudley has the lowest rough sleeping figures, dropping from five in 2018 to four in 2019.

In Birmingham the number has gone from 91 to 52.

Elsewhere across the West Midlands Combined Authority’s remit, homeless dropped in Coventry – over 12 months – from 25 to 23. But in Solihull, homelessness rose from four to six.

Boris Johnson has pledged a further £236m to tackle homelessness.

The prime minister has announced additional funding to get rough sleepers off the streets – on top of £437m planned to deal with homelessness in 2020-21.

Jamie Brassington

By Jamie Brassington
Senior Multi-Media Journalist - @JamieB_Star

Senior reporter at the Express & Star. Contact me at jamie.brassington@expressandstar.co.uk.

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