Newham

Tackling the rough sleeper crisis in Stratford

7 October 2019 in Council and democracy
Newham Council is today announcing a range of measures to tackle the growing public health crisis for rough sleepers and residents which has developed in Stratford.
Since the private eviction of an established “squat” at Stratford Office Village last May there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people rough sleeping in and around Stratford Mall.

The creation of what’s been called a “tent city” in the heart of Stratford has increased the vulnerability of rough sleepers who’ve been drawn to the area, and caused huge concerns for residents, businesses and visitors who need safe and clutter-free access to the area.

In July 2019, Newham Council created a Rough Sleeper Taskforce. A key priority for the Taskforce was to launch a sustained and effective programme of outreach work with the rough sleeping community, to encourage and support them to engage with the council in order to find alternatives to life on the street. The 10-strong outreach team, under the direction of a newly appointed Street Population manager, has in two months supported 38 people into alternative accommodation.

Unfortunately the nature and reputation of Stratford as a rough sleeping hub has meant in many cases as one person is helped to access alternative accommodation and a path away from rough sleeping, they are replaced by another.

One of the main drivers for this “churn” in the rough sleeping population is the existence of the tents and make-shift structures which have been erected in the area surrounding Stratford Mall.

To address the issue of empty tents, structures and bedding down areas which are attracting new rough sleepers, the council is to introduce a new procedure which will see tents/temporary structures and bedding removed after reasonable attempts by outreach teams to determine if they are still inhabited. This will include two separate visits to the tent/structure by outreach officers – if the area is deemed abandoned letters will be attached to the tent/structure warning it will be removed.

At this point the Street Population Manager will approve of the clearance and cleansing of the area, with protocols in place for the storage of valuables, and important documentation, which can be reclaimed.

Newham Council is undertaking this operation following considerable efforts to engage all members of the Stratford rough sleeping community to find alternative solutions. It is the council’s view that allowing the build-up of tents and temporary structures not only impacts the environmental health of the area, but puts already vulnerable rough sleepers at greater risk of crime, anti-social behaviour, and poor health.

A
longside the tent clearance and cleansing work the Council will continue to engage with individuals to find alternatives to rough sleeping. To this end Newham has made a decision to open its winter night shelter service early, with 15 places made available from October 1 2019. This service is in addition to the 20-bed specialist high needs unit at Anchor House, temporary accommodation which is funded by the council, as well as “No Second Night Out” hostels which can be accessed by people new to the streets.

The council has also recently worked with the Department of Work and Pensions to establish dedicated pathways for rough sleepers to access the benefits which might allow them to escape the streets.

The Taskforce is due to present a comprehensive Homeless Strategy, which will include rough sleeper initiatives, to Newham Council’s Cabinet in December. In the meantime it will continue to work with partners, including homeless charities, people with lived experience of homelessness, businesses, the Government, the Greater London Authority (GLA), and the police to develop and improve alternatives for the Newham rough sleeping community.

Councillor John Gray, chair of the Newham Rough Sleeper Taskforce, said: “Since this administration came into office, homelessness and rough sleeping have been given much needed attention and focus with a commitment to address the challenges with compassion and care.

“The work of the Taskforce is still in its infancy but huge inroads have already been made to support rough sleepers with the compassion and care they deserve, while exploring ways to get them away from a life on the streets.

Councillor Zulfiqar Ali, Cabinet member for health and adult social care, said: “The decision to bring forward the opening of the winter night shelters together with measures to clear abandoned tents and structures, while maintaining regular and effecti
ve outreach work, will help support our most vulnerable rough sleepers.

“Newham has a long way to go, but the work is underway, and I am confident by working together with our partners, we will find mutually agreeable solutions to current rough sleeper situation in Stratford and beyond.”