How can Sheffield tackle its growing problem of homelessness?
The sight of people sleeping and begging on the streets of Sheffield has now become commonplace.
Last month, the Star brought together five people with expert knowledge and personal experience of the growing problem to ask what can be done about it.
The panel was made up of: Councillor Jayne Dunn - SCC cabinet member for neighbourhood and community safety; Stuart Barkworth - Sheffield City Centre Residents’ Action Group; Tracey Ford - Sheffield Drug and Alcohol Coordination Team; Tim Renshaw - Cathedral Archer Project chief executive; Zoe Young - Sheffield housing options and advice service manager.
This is what they had to say. To contribute to the debate yourself, email [email protected] or leave a comment on our Facebook page.
What is the current scale of the problem?
ZY - It depends on how you define homeless. There are 20 rough sleepers in Sheffield but this morning they only found three or four. Nationally homelessness is on the increase but in Sheffield it has gone up only slightly - two per cent on last year. But that is still too many people. In Sheffield we currently have 101 households in temporary accommodation where we have reason to believe they are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless. To compare, Birmingham has 2,000 people in temporary accommodation.
In terms of people visibly on the streets begging, of those people there are some who are rough sleeping, some people who are coming in from other cities and there are people who are begging every day despite having somewhere to sleep. Most of them have been offered places multiple times. So it is a combination of homelessness and begging. My service has given 2,163 people advice on homelessness in the last year. That is an awful lot of people compared to the numbers who are on the streets.
TF - This client group is particularly complex but we are talking about a very small minority of people. Hundreds of people get help day in day out every week of the year, access services and move on but people don’t talk about that. I manage Help us Help and when we talk to the public they say no one is doing anything but they don’t see what we are doing. Supported accommodation providers are doing an incredible job. The staff who work in these charities are the most passionate people I have ever met. There has been a negative perception of Sheffield charities that they are doing nothing but that could not be further from the truth.
TR - This is a problem that affects everywhere and we can see it growing.
What impact does it have on the city?
SB - In the last two or three years Sheffield has gone from being somewhere that is safe and secure to somewhere that feels threatening. You cannot walk into town without someone saying ‘can you spare some change?’ It is frustrating. There are 10 to 15 ‘drugaholics’ who seem to be up every morning taking Spice and end up shouting and screaming at each other. Another thing is the number of off licences on West Street. It seems impossible to stop them. The 18-year-old who works in Bargain Booze gets so much abuse.
ZY - Obviously some of the behaviour has a huge impact on the people who use the city centre. It is not acceptable to behave like that on the streets of Sheffield and we do have a mechanism in place to deal with those people.
TF - There is a different cohort in the day time than the night time. It has a greater impact on the night time economy as it often becomes more aggressive when they are under the influence. In the day time it is a lot more passive begging.
TR - In terms of impact on the city there are parts of the city where groups gather which make it a nightmare. But we have got two choices. One is displacement and the other is long term engagement. We can’t get rid of the problem by moving these people to different parts of the city. We need to try to engage with them. Keeping people in services when they are badly behaved is counter-intuitive but we need to put up with it. We need to go on that journey with them. Homelessness and people who are difficult or who have suffered trauma is just something we have to get to grips with as a society.
What is driving people into homelessness, rough sleeping and begging?
JD - There is a definite correlation between austerity and homelessness. We can’t solve homelessness unless we build the right kind of homes and the welfare reforms are making it worse. If that 14-year-old doesn’t get the support they need it becomes a 20 year problem. So we need more social housing and that is one of the reasons why this council has increased the housebuilding target to 1,500 by 2020. And the people we see on the streets are also not getting the support they should be in terms of mental health assessment. We rely so much on the Archer Project - without them we would not be doing as well as we are doing.
TR - Homelessness is a result of a lifestyle that is not really chosen but is how people end up as a result of childhood trauma. This trauma can lead them to drug abuse, shortened education and mental health problems. They have complex needs and their behaviour naturally leads to them being on the streets - to a group of people who haven’t rejected them before. That is what we are dealing with in homelessness. A girl we are working with her first memory is hiding from drug dealers under the stairs. How do we help these people overcome these scars and build more positive lives? We know that we can do something about this but it takes five years - it doesn’t happen overnight.
What can we do to help?
TR - You can’t tell people how to spend their money but we can say that when people give money it makes the problem worse. Addiction increases and engagement with services decreases - the link is undeniable. This is what we are doing when we give money to people on the streets.
TF - We tried the anti-begging campaign but it wasn’t well received - people said we are not giving to ‘chuggers’. Sheffield BID have made a ‘stories from the streets’ film which shows the negative side of the issue but also all the positive things that are going on and it would be great if we could use that to get people behind the Help us Help scheme. We also have a ‘crime portal’ system which is an app where businesses can film and report persistent begging outside their shops. If it is impacting your business it means you have a way of reporting it. We have had convictions but courts just throw most of them out. We want to be able to go to the courts and get something positive that demonstrates this person is less of a risk. We are doing a lot or work around Spice to create a new approach that will become part of the city’s overall drug strategy. It has had a huge impact. You have two members of staff having to deal with one person at the Archer Project when they could be with someone else.
JD - We also have a new community safety team and that has a mental health officer in it because it is not just about moving them off the streets it is about directing them to services.
ZY - There is a lot of support out there and places to go for food but it does take time and people have been let down over the years. We all work together to get that trust with people but some people don’t want to engage and that is the frustrating bit. But there are some people who teams have been working with for years and then suddenly you get a ‘light bulb moment’. We also want to make sure people don’t get into that situation in the first place so we have a massive prevention strategy as a city as well. The good thing about Sheffield is that we are tenacious - we don’t stop.