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Taking steps to reduce rough sleepers

Cardboard house cut-out in a person's hands.

Bracknell Forest Council has today welcomed the national focus on reducing rough sleepers, which shines the spotlight on how authorities are working to address the issue.

In Bracknell Forest, a dedicated team is now working hard to reduce the number of people sleeping rough. Since the team’s formation in summer 2019, the number of rough sleepers in the borough has reduced from around 30 to 12.*

The rough sleeper team was set up in response to the Government’s pledge to eliminate rough sleeping by 2027. It includes outreach workers, accommodation and support officers and a mental health professional, as part of a holistic approach to tackling the issue.

The team works in conjunction with a number of organisations including health services, drug and alcohol addiction services, faith and voluntary groups. This enables the council to provide a whole package of support, alongside its partner agencies, to address a host of complex and complicated issues, rather than just finding temporary accommodation.

Part of the team’s role is to go out and identify and engage with rough sleepers within the borough, which can be challenging given the majority of Bracknell Forest’s rough sleepers are located within the borough’s extensive forests and woodland.

Once the workers have met and spoken with the person sleeping rough, they work to build trust and to help them secure accommodation. Building a relationship with a highly vulnerable person is not an easy task and can take the team months of perseverance. As well as accommodation, the team can offer an intensive package of support – including linking them up with other relevant local support services.

Prior to the team’s arrival the council was unable to provide support in such a coordinated way and relied on estimates in terms of the number of rough sleepers and their location.

Over the winter months the council’s Rough Sleeper team has worked closely with local partner agencies to build trusting relationships with rough sleepers and to help them move into accommodation – many for the first time in months or years. To date 22 rough sleepers have been found a place to live since August 2019. However, once people are housed the story doesn’t end there, the team provide intensive wrap around support for as long as they need it to help them to adjust to living in the community, paying bills, and managing day-to- day life.

National figures released by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) today provide a brief snapshot of the borough’s rough sleeper count on one night in November 2019, which is why it differs from the council’s most up-to-date figures.

The November snapshot does not provide a true year-on-year comparison as the 2018 Bracknell Forest figures were based on an estimate and the 2019 figure was a more accurate headcount.

Cllr Dale Birch, Executive Member for Adult Services, Health and Housing, said:

“Rough sleeping is an issue which has been rising for many years nationally and Bracknell Forest has not been immune to that. We take our responsibility to address rough sleeping very seriously, which is why we now have a person- centred approach in place to not only provide accommodation, but to provide support for the person’s health and wellbeing too.

“The council’s rough sleeper team has, according to our latest bi-monthly figures, dramatically reduced the number of people sleeping rough in the borough by 60 per cent in just eight months. We are continuing to provide these people with the support they need to ensure they don’t end up rough sleeping in the future, while also working with the remaining 40 per cent of rough sleepers.“In stepping up our approach to rough sleeping, we are now able to more accurately count the number of rough sleepers in Bracknell Forest, which wasn’t the case in 2018.

“I have confidence in our new team that we will provide the best possible service to our rough sleepers and that we now have no hidden rough sleepers within the borough.”

Notes

*The figures quoted are based on actual numbers rather than previous estimates. The 30 figure was the highest number of rough sleepers counted in September 2019 and the 12 figure is from the council’s most recent bi-monthly count from January 2020.

Unlike many other towns and cities, there are few people visibly bedded down in public places in Bracknell Forest. With woodland accounting for 39% of the land cover within the borough, the majority of rough sleepers tend to be out of sight. There is very little evidence of anyone sleeping rough within the town centre, with the exception of short stays in service yards and car parks.

The vast majority of the borough’s rough sleepers are local people – there is no evidence of transient rough sleepers in Bracknell Forest. Likewise, there is little evidence that the borough’s rough sleepers have any armed forces link or background.