Ten days ago I posted titled “Rough sleepers and cold weather” to my blog, highlighting concerns many share. At that time I sent a letter to the CEO and Leader of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council (see below), about life and death matters pertaining to those who are sleeping rough in our town. This was sent on behalf of seventy-seven persons, many of which are faith and community leaders who are serving the homeless in our town. We could have got many more to sign but we felt speed of action was essential because of the urgency of the matters raised. Regrettably, I have not yet received any acknowledgement (I have just found out the original letter did not get through to the main recipients, possibly due to some problem on the ether, but that has now been rectified and I am now told a response will be coming – ed). The matter of helping rough sleepers is ALL our responsibilities and not just that of the Council. The third reading of the Homeless Reduction Bill in the House of Commons this coming Friday (something I have been supportive of and have encouraged others to be too) is indicative it requires action at the top (including making available resources) as well as the bottom, where many of my community activist friends focus their efforts.
Rob Tinlin (Chief Executive of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council)
John Lamb (Leader of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council)
We appreciate Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s efforts to encourage appropriate accommodation during the cold months for rough sleepers in Southend-on-Sea. The reality is there are many rough sleepers not able to access accommodation or winter night shelters and consequently sleep on the streets each night. Periodically, these people sleeping rough are under the age of eighteen. As you will be aware, for minors, there is a legal obligation to provide accommodation for those who are without shelter.
We applaud the work of the many charities and volunteers in Southend-on-Sea working tirelessly to provide shelter for the most vulnerable. This includes the valuable provision of the Church’s Winter Night Shelters run in partnership with HARP and Southend Borough Council. However, due to the firmer criteria regarding access to the night shelters there are many rough sleepers who do not access these shelters. We appreciate firmer criteria are in place for safeguarding and health and safety reasons (mental ill health, substance misuse, access and anti-social behaviour). Consequently, there may be more rough sleepers on the streets at night than those who are in the shelters.
Other protocols are therefore needed. The present severe weather emergency protocol is insufficient to ensure that people don’t die. The freezing temperatures put the lives of the most vulnerable at risk. With many people dying across Europe due to the cold, we as a town have an ethical responsibility to act with compassion and practically help those most in need. This is a situation of life and death.
There is a humanitarian obligation on local authorities to do everything possible to prevent deaths on the streets caused by winter weather. Our aim in writing this letter is to ensure: 1) that no one dies on the streets due to severe weather, and; 2) minors have access to accommodation at all times. We, the undersigned, have an interest in helping Southend’s rough sleeper population and would want to support initiatives to reduce homelessness.
Please advise, therefore, what measures you will take to develop more robust severe weather emergency protocols. Secondly, please confirm that you will provide emergency accommodation for minors if no other accommodation is reasonably available to them, as required by law.
Please refer to the accompanying document listing all the signatures
13th January 2017