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"We need to focus on the bigger picture to overcome homelessness"

Jackie Bliss, HARP’s Chief Executive, shares her thoughts on the latest rough sleeper count announced by central government on Thursday 27th February 2020, and the complexity of homelessness in Southend:

Although it is disappointing to see the official street count of people sleeping rough in Southend increase from 11 in 2018 to 32 in 2019, we are pleased that the trend is still positive when compared to the record high of 72 in 2017. At HARP we are urging people to look at the bigger picture, because focusing on a simple statistic does not shine much meaningful light on a complex issue such as homelessness.

It's important to remember that the official rough sleeper count is simply a snapshot from one particular night. Whilst 32 people were found to be sleeping rough in Southend-on-Sea on this night, that doesn’t include the people who would have been sleeping on the streets if it weren’t for emergency accommodation like our Extended Emergency Service. In fact, we know that over half of the 1,232 people who used HARP’s services in 2019 had a history of sleeping rough.

This really highlights that the picture is ever evolving, not just year-to-year, but day-to-day. What is clear is that there is a continued need for innovative solutions to the housing crisis. At HARP, we are always looking at new ways to help people get off the streets - and stay off the streets. The number of bed spaces we are able to offer has grown, as part of HARP’s response to the growing need in the town, from 174 in mid-2018 to 214 today, plus additional sleeping spaces in our Extended Emergency Service - an overnight shelter at our Bradbury Centre for those in immediate need.

The media headlines will doubtless focus on simple statistics from this national rough sleeper count, celebrating areas showing reductions, and criticising towns where the count has worsened. But we do need to focus on the bigger picture.

At HARP, we have always emphasised that rough sleeping is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of overall levels of homelessness. Although this is the most visible and dangerous aspect, there are countless more people in precarious accommodation, sofa-surfing, or staying in temporary housing who need ongoing support to avoid and overcome homelessness. And new people are finding themselves in these precarious and often dangerous circumstances every day.

Nearly half of the people who came to HARP for help in 2019 were using our services for the first time, and over half of those new visitors were sofa surfing, had no fixed abode, or were at risk of losing their accommodation and were in need of help and support to keep it. This only goes to show how many local people are struggling to keep a roof over their heads and are in danger of ending up on the streets.

We desperately need more social housing and affordable accommodation (and this means properties to rent, not just “affordable housing” for people fortunate enough to be able to purchase), as well as better support for people struggling with their financial and housing situations, and a genuine effort to tackle the root causes of homelessness.

The introduction of Universal Credit as a reform to welfare benefits continues to create and exacerbate homelessness, and whilst the recent government decision to unfreeze the assumed rate of housing benefit within this (known as the Local Housing Allowance rate or LHA) is very welcome, here in Southend this rate of LHA remains at least £150 per month lower than actual local rents for a one bedroomed flat.

The national housing crisis is now entering its second decade, with over 1.1 million people now being on the waiting list for social housing, and fewer than 7,000 new properties being built for social housing last year. So while HARP continues to do everything we can to tackle homelessness here in Southend-on-Sea, it is clear that more structural national solutions must be found urgently if the crisis is to be halted.

More information…

Get help now – how to access support from HARP and other agencies if you or someone you know are homeless or at risk of losing your home.

Rough sleepers can visit our Bradbury Day Centre Monday to Friday, 9am to 1pm, with breakfast served until 11am, and advice and support available from our support workers.

Those who are sofa-surfing or worried about their housing situation, come to the Bradbury Day Centre Monday to Friday, between 1pm and 4pm, for support and advice specific to your situation.

Get involved – find out how you can help us in our mission to help local people overcome homelessness for good.

Read real-life stories about people who have turned their lives around with HARP’s support.

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