As one of Cheltenham’s YMCA honorary vice-presidents, I was delighted to support the annual Sleep Easy last weekend. Dozens of hardy souls bedded down in cardboard boxes overnight in the car park near Arle Road, despite the mercury plunging.
They did so because like me they enormously value the work of the YMCA. Homelessness is a stain on a decent society, and every rough sleeper is a living rebuke to us to do more. It is difficult to overstate just how important YMCA is in this mission. The flagship £4.1m supported accommodation building on Vittoria Walk provides 73 rooms for those aged 16 and over in need of low to high level support, from substance misuse to mental health and other complex needs.
In support of this work, in recent years I am delighted that together we in Cheltenham secured nearly £1 million from the Government to set up our town’s first ‘homeless hub’ shortly after I raised the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions.
The emergency hub, based in the YMCA, is staffed 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week, to provide a safe environment off the streets. On arrival, staff rapidly assess a person’s needs and design a personal housing plan to make sure that there is no reason for them to stay sleeping rough. Within 72 hours, specialist support is identified for any complex needs an individual may have.
Meanwhile, the county’s Streetlink service funds dedicated outreach teams to get out and about in Cheltenham to actively look for those that need help and start their journey into longer term sustained housing.
And we have also secured a further £3.8 million in Government funding to provide longer term accommodation, including 50 one and two-bedroom flats provided in various locations across the county for people who are homeless.
Despite the impact from Covid, rough sleeping has fallen by 49% since 2017. Cheltenham YMCA staff and volunteers have worked exceptionally hard to help make that a reality.
[Column first published in the Glos Echo]