Tue, 21 Aug 2018
A WEST Berkshire homeless charity has challenged the Government’s claim that it can end rough sleeping by 2027.
Local campaigners have also said that the Government’s new £100m strategy does not go far enough.
Their comments come after it was revealed that nearly 40 people in West Berkshire have found themselves sleeping rough this year.
The Government announced the strategy last week.
It also committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and ending it by 2027.
The money will focus on prevention, intervention and recovery, with £30m allocated for mental health.
However, half the £100m fund has already been committed to homelessness, with the other half being “reprioritised” from other departments.
The West Berkshire Homeless charity said it had already helped 37 local people who have found themselves homeless in the district this year.
The charity’s general secretary, Erica Gassor, said: “They are recycling the money to make it look good.”
Mrs Gassor said that in the majority of cases it was the complexity of the Government’s Universal Credit system that was a contributing factor.
She said: “The Government has not got a grip on what the problems are.
“They have made the problem worse by the policy they put in and it’s making people homeless.
“The Government does not understand homelessness and homeless people. They should take advice on what the situation is on the ground and in the tents.”
As for ending rough sleeping by 2027, she said: “I can’t see that happening unless they change dramatically the way they are doing things.”
However, Newbury’s Conservative MP Richard Benyon welcomed the funding, saying it “shows a total commitment that matches the ambition of West Berkshire Council and the target to end rough sleeping”.
He added: “There are so many different causes. You can’t say there’s a cause. There are many different causes – this will tackle some of them.”
A £30m allocation of the £100m has been earmarked for mental health, which Mr Benyon said was a problem in a large percentage of cases.
However, he added that rough sleeping was “extremely complex” and that the Government could not hide from the fact that funding was needed.
“I think it’s good to have an absolute clear ambition to end rough sleeping,” he said.
“For some of them it’s almost impossible to get them off the streets.
“For some it’s a lifestyle choice, but for the vast majority it isn’t.”
When asked whether the 2027 target was ambitious enough, Mr Benyon said: “It’s very ambitious.
“It is the first Government that’s had a target like this, certainly in my memory.”
The chief officer at Healthwatch West Berkshire, Andrew Sharp, welcomed the funding, but said that it wasn’t enough to address the root causes.
He said: “It’s not new money. We have to stop people getting homeless in the first place, get them off the street and support them.
“The money helps, but it’s not enough. It’s about how we connect it with other factors.”
Mr Sharp, who earlier this year called for rough sleeping to end in West Berkshire by 2020, slammed the Government’s 2027 target as not being ambitious enough.
“This is kicking the can down the road,” he said.
“It’s not a target, it’s almost insulting. Landing someone on Mars is a target, but it takes the sixth richest economy 10 years to solve a problem that we shouldn’t really have.
“Even if we miss it and get 90 per cent, that’s helping out some of our most vulnerable people and we can do better. It’s not always about the money.”
Mr Sharp added: “I just think the 2027 target is extremely disappointing.
“It’s not ambitious enough. I would like the Government to have another look at this.
“Maybe we can show them how to do it here by 2020. Grandiose failure is better than no ambition.”