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In the wake of increasing numbers of rough sleepers, and no reliable method to count them, Midland Heart has been commissioned to write a report on the state of rough sleeping in the West Midlands. The report outlines the current scale of rough sleepers in the area who do not have access to dedicated outreach services, and makes appropriate recommendations as to how funding could be most effectively utilised by the West Midlands Homelessness Forum.
The severe lack of integration between services is widely discussed throughout the report. There is no central system that a support worker can go to to access customer records. Many ‘entrenched’ homeless people have accessed various support agencies over the years, and when coming in fresh to a new agency it would be beneficial for all information collected to be easily obtained. Surely, the simplest way to do this would be through the NHS, which already has existing databases capable of handling the information.
We know that mental heath problems are prominent within the rough sleeping group, so access to all available material would help to highlight an issue faster, meaning support can be offered earlier. The report highlighted the lack of mental heath expertise and awareness within homeless organizations, and this seems to be an area that increased funding could hugely benefit. Partially to blame is the current ‘reactive’ system that is in place, rather than a protocol focused on prevention. Both training frontline staff could be beneficial here, but also having a dedicated team available to deal with the specific issues across the area.
The report has suggested that due to the relatively small numbers of rough sleepers in the areas scoped, it might be beneficial for the authorities to pool their resources and have outreach workers covering wider areas. This could encourage more specialist support workers, with a dedicated team to facilitate information sharing, meaning customers would have increased options and support. The current lack of direct-access hostels also increases the need for a 24-hour support system.
It is evident from the interviews that rough sleepers and sofa-surfers are well known by the authorities, and they in turn do not know what help is available. The report suggests a marketing campaign and online portal could be beneficial, where people access what support is available, enabling them to contact the appropriate service.
The report is a step in the right direction. It has highlighted the need for more awareness among frontline workers and the urgent need for integration of services. It also notes the excellent work that currently takes place, particularly that of charities and volunteers. With rental prices rising and the economic downturn leaving many unemployed, rough sleeping is sadly on the rise, and therefore it is important to get in early with these preventative measures to ensure no one takes to the streets without knowing they have somewhere to go.