Homelessness in Cheltenham

With Brexit convulsing Parliament, every column could cover the latest instalment in the saga. But with events moving so fast, a piece written on Tuesday might feel rather out of date 48 hours later. So I hope readers will forgive me if I focus instead on a vital local issue – homelessness in Cheltenham.

We should be clear: homelessness is a stain on a decent society. Every rough sleeper is a human tragedy – a living rebuke to us to do more. That’s why no stone should be left unturned to ensure that everyone in Cheltenham has a roof over their head.

And so it was really positive to see that Cheltenham’s rough sleeper official count, carried out by local charity P3 on 13 November, found that the figure had dropped dramatically since last year. It now stands at two. That is two too many of course, and it’s also the case that these figures are just a moment in time.

But it does suggest progress is being made. It is to the great credit of the skilled and compassionate work of groups like P3, CCP and Cheltenham Open Door. And it also suggests that the £1.25 million of ‘social impact bond’ funding to Gloucestershire to address entrenched rough sleeping is beginning to have a positive impact.

Directed to local charities P3 and CCP, this cash from the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government funds a personal link worker for every entrenched rough sleeper in Cheltenham as well as the Streetlink portal. The one-on-one support helps tackle some of the complex barriers to securing and retaining accommodation – including mental health and substance addiction – and continues after the person has found housing and is off the streets.

There is still much more to do. I believe we should aspire for nothing less than the total eradication of rough sleeping in Cheltenham by 2020. These figures suggest that the target is within our grasp.

Anyone wanting to report rough sleeping should contact Streetlink (http://www.streetlink.org.uk/), use the streetlink app, or phone 0300 500 0914.