Firstly, I would like to congratulate the Honourable Member for Oxford West and Abingdon for securing this debate today, on this crucial issue.
I was elected in December 2019 with a pledge to end rough sleeping on the streets of Hastings and Rye, and it is a pledge I intend to keep.
As constituency MPs, we will all have had experiences of meeting with and hearing from those who have unfortunately fallen into homelessness and sleeping rough. The distress and desperation that individuals in this position experience is hard to hear and challenging to overcome.
The Government has committed vast amounts of investment since the last General Election to help support the work going on to eradicate rough sleeping and support those who find themselves in the position of homelessness. In the last Budget, in 2021, the Chancellor pledged a further £676 million which included a Rough Sleepers Support scheme of £221 million.
Hastings has benefited from this investment in eradicating rough sleeping and I thank the Government for this.
As welcome as the funding is, and it is welcome, there is something else I have discovered that is equally as important to tacking this issue, and that is collaboration.
When I was first elected and made tackling rough sleeping one of my top priorities, I was struck by how any organisations were already working on this, from Councils to churches, large national charities to individuals doing their bit here or there. What was very evident though was the disjointed approach to providing the support to those who most needed it. It was clear to me that there needed to be more collaboration and joined up thinking on this.
It is down to the fantastic work of Homeless Link that in East Sussex, we do now have the joined-up approach. Having met with them last year, we have now set up a forum aimed at preventing homelessness and mitigating the risk factors of rough sleeping, which includes local charities, churches, organisations specialising in homeless support, representatives from local authorities and those who provide the housing and health support. Meeting on a regular basis this forum now means that all those concerned with tackling this issue can meet up, discuss progress and next steps, and by working together are beginning to end the pandemic of rough sleeping in our area.
The Government has been playing a crucial role in providing the funding and impetus to eradicate rough sleeping, but it is this combined with the collaboration of those on the ground, that is now delivering results.
I want to raise another crucial aspect to tackling rough sleeping and homelessness which is the Housing First policy. First piloted back in 2017, this policy has supported and helped countless people and was the foundation for the Government’s approach to those sleeping on our streets during the Covid19 pandemic.
It is the principle of helping those with the most complex needs, not just with housing and support for long-term accommodation needs, but also tackling the causes of their rough sleeping whether that be mental health issues, drug or alcohol misuse, unemployment or family and relationship breakdown. By providing this wrap around care and support, rather than just a roof over someone’s head, is the best way to tackle rough sleeping and ensure people don’t end up back on our streets again.
This is why the collaboration is so important to our approach on this issue. You need individuals and organisations from all areas that can provide this wrap around support, to work together to tackle this issue.
I conclude Chair, by asking the Government to ensure that going forwards it is not only funding that we focus on, but it is policies like Housing First, and the collaboration they instil on those working on the ground. Funding and collaboration are the two crucial ingredients we need to make a success of our pledge to eradicate rough sleeping by the end of this parliament.