Homelessness and rough sleeping
Posted on Friday 3rd November 2017
Homelessness is an issue which is taken very seriously by organisations across the city that want to ensure everyone has a safe place to sleep every night.
But, as the numbers of people who are homeless continues to rise across the country - not just in Wales and Newport - it is a complex and sensitive issue.
It should be said that not everyone who is classed as homeless is a rough sleeper and not everyone who is a rough sleeper is unable to find accommodation.
In the same way, not all those who are begging are homeless or rough sleepers but may be asking for money for a variety of reasons including to fund addictions or for financial gain.
Newport has many services aimed at helping those who are homeless and sleeping rough which are offered by organisations in the city.
Newport City Council, Gwent Police and specialist charities such as The Wallich and Eden Gate work closely together as they recognise that there are some very vulnerable people in our society who need support.
They also acknowledge that there are a small number of individuals whose anti-social behaviour can impact disproportionately on others.
Councillor Jane Mudd, the council's cabinet member for regeneration and housing, said: "Homelessness is often seen only in relation to people sleeping rough. While this is the most acute form of homelessness, it is worth noting that the number of people living on the streets represents a small number compared to those who approach us and other organisations for assistance with homelessness.
"The council has a number of effective procedures aimed at tackling and alleviating homelessness and we work with a number of partners to make sure there is a joined-up approach to accessing accommodation and support.
"Above all, we aim to intervene at the earliest possible opportunity to assist those who are at risk of becoming homeless.
"There will be times when individuals or families become homeless and we also take a positive and proactive approach to these cases. Unfortunately, there are instances when the intervention of the council and other agencies fails to secure suitable options but we continue to offer support, advice and practical assistance towards securing accommodation.
"It must be stressed that the success of this work depends on the engagement of individuals and this can be problematic for a range of reasons, particularly with people who lead chaotic lives.
"The costs of helping people with housing issues have continued to increase over recent years and this shows the demands we face.
"We have done significant work to address homelessness in the city against a backdrop of continuing austerity measures which have severely affected council budgets and increasing pressures on residents because of the financial problems they are dealing with including benefit cuts and increased household costs."
A multi-agency group is specifically addressing the issue of people sleeping on the city's streets.
Gwent Police's Inspector for the city centre Rob Jenkins said: "I attend the rough sleeper task group and we work with our partner agencies to share information and support initiatives to help those who are homeless in Newport.
"We are committed to offering the appropriate support to those individuals who most need it within the community. I also recognise that there is a small minority who are begging in the city centre and are not homeless or in need of additional support.
"These individuals often beg to fund their lifestyle and I would encourage members of the public to donate through recognised charities rather than give directly to those that are begging as this can often prevent them from seeking help from appropriate partners.
"In response to concerns raised from members of the public regarding begging, I have tasked my officers to patrol the city centre and identify those individuals in order to divert them away from begging and signpost them towards support. Each individual is discussed at the rough sleeper task group so that we can provide support tailored to their individual needs.
"However, begging is a criminal offence and those that are doing the most harm to the community will be dealt with appropriately and I'd encourage members of the public to report any instances of begging to the police by calling 101."
Members of the public who want to help those on the streets can do so in a variety of ways, but giving money directly to those who are begging is not the answer. They may be stopping people seeking the assistance they need to find more long-lasting solutions to their problems or even giving to those who are not really homeless or living on the streets.
People who want to help those in need financially are requested not to give money directly to those asking for it but to give to charities that provide specialist support. Volunteers who want to give more practical help are also welcomed by those organisations.
Charities such as The Wallich and Eden Gate are vital partners in the work that is being done in the city and have a number of initiatives to assist people who are in need, and they stress this is about more than ensuring people have a roof over their heads.
The Wallich, a homelessness charity, works with some of the most vulnerable people in Wales.
It specialises in providing outreach and prevention services for people with multiple, complex needs; some may be excluded from other services or have difficulty in accessing accommodation.
In Newport, there are two main services - the Rough Sleepers Intervention Team (RSIT) and a PREP project working with people leaving prison.
The RSIT works in partnership with the council to provide support to homeless and vulnerably housed people, with the ultimate aim of securing and/or maintaining appropriate accommodation. As well as providing breakfast, hot drinks, warm clothing, toiletries and help in locating further provision throughout the day and evening, it also offers a wide range of advice and assistance to people to find the most appropriate, relevant and specialist services.
Denise Rogers, of The Wallich in Newport, said: "Some of the reasons that contribute to homelessness include: relationship breakdowns, loss of jobs, historical issues, criminal offending issue, sanction of benefits and no recourse to public funds."
"People in Newport have a mixed reaction to rough sleeping. Some people are supportive and want to help by donating food and resources. There has also been a good response to StreetLink (www.streetlink.org.uk), a service that encourages the public to report any incidents of rough sleeping so they can be connected to local and appropriate services in Newport."
"However, some of the public perceive rough sleeping to be the cause of much of the anti-social behaviour that is being reported. While there has been a rise in both numbers of rough sleepers and anti-social behaviour, not all can be attributed to street homeless individuals."
"Many rough sleepers are in the city centre areas as they feel safer; this, in turn, makes them more visible as a group. It's also notable that some of those engaged in street drinking and begging do, in fact, have somewhere to stay. It's not a straightforward situation. This shows a need for more informative conversations about the issues and a continued collaborative approach from all organisations involved."
"Reducing rough sleeping and street begging is high on the agenda of the rough sleeping task group, and we recognise that initiatives are needed to tackle the issue."
Eden Gate exists in Newport for those who find themselves vulnerable, either because they have no home or because they are trapped by drugs or alcohol (or sometimes both).
Marc Hepton, of the charity, said: "There are many hands willing to help. We want to help those who can't cope and we are well placed to do that through our special relationship with Newport churches and their members.
"It's not just about helping people into accommodation; it is about helping people with their real problems such as drug addiction. If those problems aren't dealt with, then they face difficulties in maintaining accommodation."
Eden Gate offers drop-in sessions five times a week where people who are vulnerable or on a low income - not just the homeless - can have a cup of coffee and a biscuit in a safe and calm environment. The charity aims to see people make positive changes in their life and maintains strong links with local services to help achieve positive outcomes for guests using the service.
Local churches also get together on a Sunday and provide "lunch in a bag". It also runs a winter night shelter and consideration is being given to extending that service to address the local need in Newport.
"It can be a long time of building trust so we can link people to services where they can break free from drink and drugs," added Mr Hepton.
The Newport Now Business Improvement District, which represents businesses across the city centre, is working to help reduce begging and anti-social behaviour through the development of a diverted giving scheme in partnership with homelessness charity The Wallich.
Kevin Ward, manager of Newport Now, said: "Diverted giving schemes, which operate in many towns and cities across the UK, offer the public an alternative mechanism to support people affected by homelessness by encouraging them to give responsibly to agencies working directly to tackle such issues.
"Effectively, the scheme aims to discourage people from giving to street beggars in the city centre and instead will offer alternative secure methods of donation to The Wallich, with all donations allocated to projects specific to the city centre.
"Funding for the scheme has been agreed by the BID Board of Directors, made up of city centre business owners and managers, and it is anticipated it will be in operation before the end of the year."