Dickensian Medway, Hard Times: Homelessness

In which Keevil publishes the first in a series of indubitably jolly pieces looking at hardship within Medway.

Click this link if you are at risk of homelessness

(Leave the comment ‘Hard Times’ on any Ko-fi donation in relation to this article and a hot drink will be given to a homeless person.)

In 2017, Shelter estimated that Medway had 1,059 total homeless people and 14 long term rough sleepers.
Medway Council’s Rough Sleeper Estimate, in October 2017, verified by Homeless Link, had a figure of 44 rough sleepers in Medway.

“Let’s talk about homelessness. You’re walking along Rochester High Street and what do you see? A *homeless* man/woman begging to feed an addiction, on the streets because they want to be there. Or someone with mental health issues, dependencies and a chaotic lifestyle. Our perception of people on the streets determines the conversation about the community and society we want to live in. People aren’t born on the streets; they become street homeless via a complex interaction of societal and personal issues. It is a truism that not everybody with mental health difficulties, alcohol/drug dependence, known to the criminal justice system, poor educational attainment will be on the street, but everybody on the street will have at least one of these markers, together with poor employment history and difficulty in maintaining positive relationships. I would argue that there are structural inequalities within our communities/societies which reinforce these issues and ensure that homelessness remains seemingly intractable almost twenty years after I first started working with homeless people in Medway at the Winter Warmers, Cold Weather Shelter.
In the same way that the Government has laudable initiatives, such as every child matters, I would argue that we need to ensure that every adult matters. Far too many adults are left behind without the life skills to enable them to live well. Homelessness is not just about providing someone with a key – though that does undoubtedly help – but equipping people with the life skills to sustain a tenancy and cope with an increasingly complex world. Without these life skills and the emotional resilience to cope, it is not surprising that people seek to cope with alcohol and/or drugs. The savage cuts to social care in recent years means that an increasing number of people are unable to access the services they need, such as community mental health, and addiction services. Local authorities have scarcer resources to allocate and, maybe, provision of services for homeless and vulnerably housed people is not a priority. Homeless people are marginalized and often lack a voice to represent their wishes and interests and are all too easily overlooked. We need to speak up alongside them to expose the iniquity of people sleeping, and dying, rough on our streets and in our public spaces. Local authorities and central government need to be more innovative in how they respond to the homelessness crisis (and it is a crisis) and active citizens should hold them to account to ensure that everything practicable is done to ensure that no-one is street homeless, rather than penalising homeless people with fines they cannot pay and harassing groups and individuals who strive to provide support and dignity for rough sleepers.
Homelessness is complex and there is not a quick win. However, by prioritising public services that work with homeless people we can better prevent people ending up on the streets and enabling those already there to live some safe and secure, which, I would argue, is a basic human right.”
Guy Jordan, Medway resident, speaking in 2016

The Government’s Rough Sleeping Strategy intends to end rough sleeping by 2027. Last year, Shelter estimated 2,000 children in Kent would be homeless on Christmas Day. Medway topped that list with 619 homeless children. Shelter says not having a permanent home can affect a child’s mental and physical health and lead to their education suffering.
The Government announced £34 million funding as part of its Rough Sleeping Strategy. £1.88 million was received by Kent and Medway Council were awarded the highest sums; £410,000 was awarded earlier this year from the Ministry of Housing, Community and Local Government for 2018/19 and they were recently awarded an additional £486,000 to continue to provide help and support.

“We commission a range of support and accommodation all year round to help people with nowhere to live. The extra funding will help us increase housing provisions for rough sleepers.
The funding compliments the work we already do with the agencies in the Homelessness forum and we continue to work closely with partner agencies to ensure emergency accommodation is available for those that need it most.
We offer a range of specialist advice, on the issues that can cause people to become homeless, at Kingsley House in Gillingham, and I would encourage anyone who is homeless, or is at risk of becoming homeless, to access the support available.”
Cllr Howard Doe, Medway Council Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Services

“Central Government Funding has been a welcome addition, particularly given a previous reluctance by the Tory administration to tackle the matter seriously. The money is a drop in the ocean compared to the scale of the problem.
This is not only rough sleepers on the street but also those that have no permanent abode, a problem growing as we continue to operate in a largely unregulated rental market.”
Cllr Naushabah Khan, Gillingham South ward (Gillingham High Street)

Interventions have included:
– Appointment of a rough sleeper coordinator.
– Personal budgets for those at risk of becoming homeless.
– Provision of an outreach team.
– Additional funding for ‘Housing First’.
– Specialist workers.
– Underwriting rent.
– Pilot temporary accommodation.
– Mental health support.

Interventions have moved 30 rough sleepers into a range of accommodation and another 8 have been supported to return to other local authority areas, where they have a connection, for further assistance with housing.

“We tackle the symptoms but root causes include poverty, poor mental health provision, addiction and a failure to build sufficient social housing.”
Cllr Alex Paterson, Rochester West ward (Rochester High Street)

“This has been an important focus for me since I was elected, and as mayor, not least because my ward is very much affected. I am forever pushing, meeting, discussing, listening and seeking better ways of tackling this important and complex issue. I want no less than Medway to lead the way. I do not believe we will ever be able to stop all rough sleeping and begging, but I do believe we should be able offer help to all those willing to accept it and wanting to change. Working together, we have made exceptional progress especially in recent months so my heartfelt thanks to all involved.
But we must never be complacent. We still need to build more homes for everyone, and provide more interim supported accommodation for the most difficult cases. We must also seek even stronger ties with any organisation who is trying to help, and provide much better public information. Some well-meaning help, if misdirected or abused, can be part of the problem. So the journey continues.”
Cllr Stuart Tranter, Rochester West ward (Rochester High Street)

Medway Council will conduct a 2018 Rough Sleepers count later this year.

“Sofa-Surfers mask the true scale of the housing crisis and their is an imminent tsunami caused by the bungled rollout of Universal Credit.”
Cllr Alex Paterson

Cllr Khan is very clear about what we need moving forward:

“- A permanent winter shelter from Nov-Jan using empty council buildings.
– The trigger for severe weather protocol measures to be reduced from 3 days to 1.
– Removal of significant reforms to ‘right to buy’
– Building of not just ‘genuinely affordable’ but social housing with the Council setting social housing targets for delivery.
– Review of the private rental market and consideration of rent caps.
– Increased regulation.”

If you or somebody you know is in need then there is help available.

“It becomes even harder either being homeless or in insecure housing this time of year. A lot of work is being done by local services at the moment, especially within homelessness outreach. If you come across anyone needing help you/they will likely find this leaflet and calendar very helpful.
Natasha Boardman-Steer, Local Creatabot

Cllrs Tejan and Mackness, River ward (Chatham High Street) were contacted for comment, but did not reply for this piece.

For more information please go to www.medway.gov.uk/homelessness

It’s not for us impartial commentators to say whether homeless is good or bad, right or wrong, left wing or right wing. Well yes we can its awful, but what do you think?
Are Medway Council doing enough or are they doing too much? 
Will Brexit end homelessness? Let us know in the comments!

2 Replies to “Dickensian Medway, Hard Times: Homelessness”

  1. For myself working within mental health, resettlement and with ex-offenders – the one issue I see that often leads to re-offending is lack of opportunities in the work place. I myself am self employed and for anyone who enjoys independence the idea of returning to a job with a “boss” can be daunting – even more so if you have a record that you feel you will be judged and discriminated for. More employers need to think about how they support people within their company and provide truly equal opportunities so that everyone has the chance of having a job that they feel valued in. It is tough enough with some employers without a criminal record, imagine what it is like trying to prove to an employer that they should not be discriminated against because they have a criminal record.

  2. Councillor Trantor and the Tory Government he supports are part of the problem. They have presided over 10 years of austerity including cuts to benefits, the bedroom tax and now the disastrous Universal Credit. They have broken up and privatised public services, such as probation, that used to provide joined up and locally responsive resettlement and rehabilitation for offenders. In 2016 he ignored protests at the Dickens Festival, preferring to pose about in period costume. The Medway Homeless Forum remains a closed, invitation only, group that is unaccountable.

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