James Boultbee, our CEO, has an update for you on the rising numbers of people sleeping rough in our community.
You may have noticed more people sleeping rough in and around Wycombe town centre recently. We are certainly receiving more calls to our hotline letting us know about people who may need our help.
I joined one of our regular town centre outreach walks and I certainly haven’t seen that many people sleeping rough here for years. So what is going on?
For two years from March 2020, everyone found to be rough sleeping in Buckinghamshire was offered emergency accommodation so they could stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of that accommodation was funded by the government, some by Buckinghamshire Council and some by Wycombe Homeless Connection and our supporters.
I was proud of how we all came together in a crisis to make sure no one was left to sleep rough during a public health emergency.
Unfortunately the emergency response was never going to be permanent solution. In fact emergency accommodation is never a permanent solution; ideally it’s only ever a brief step towards a longer term home!
At the end of March this year that provision came to an end and the numbers of people sleeping rough have gone back up significantly. We’re currently aware of almost 30 people who are frequently sleeping rough across the south of Buckinghamshire.
People sleeping rough has been a sadly familiar sight for years and it can seem like an intractable problem, but I’d encourage you to see it differently…
Think of it like this: despite everyone’s best efforts, there are always people losing their homes and have nowhere to go.
And there are always people who are homeless but who find accommodation and can leave the street behind.
When the economy is doing well and/or when there is lots of help in place, the number of people beginning to live on the streets reduces - that’s good. Likewise when there is lots of help available and enough affordable housing, the number of people getting off the street increases - that is also good.
When both of these things happen at once, the number of people sleeping rough goes right down and that is good for everyone. It’s very good for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness and it’s probably good for the whole town.
Some of these things came together in the pandemic and we saw the number of people rough sleeping drop dramatically. Evictions were banned for much of the time so fewer people were starting to sleep rough. Anyone who did find themselves on the streets was quickly offered accommodation. Lots of help was given to people directly and through organisations like us and so for two years the number of people sleeping outside was minimal.
But now the number of people on the streets in Wycombe and across our community is going up, too much.
We all hoped this wouldn’t happen.
I said during the pandemic that it would make absolutely no sense to see what was effectively an end to rough sleeping, only to let it come back with a vengeance when the crisis was over, especially considering there is a national target to end it by 2024.
But, the eviction ban is long over, there is a cost of living crisis and we’re seeing huge emotional and relational fallout from the pandemic which is causing large numbers of people to leave the places they live. And there has been no increase in the amount of affordable homes. There are simply too few ways to find a home for someone who has become homeless.
It can be done, but it is hard work and it takes time to get a solution for people who are sleeping rough right now.
But there is hope. I joined our specialist support team and volunteers and have once again seen them in action, reaching out to people who are on the street.
Despite all the challenges, I can confidently say they’re not letting any of these obstacles slow them down.
At Wycombe Homeless Connection we are speaking to people in power about what they need to do.
We are also doing everything we can to reduce the harm homelessness causes, and to prevent it before it even begins. We’re taking on extra staff including our new frontline team member Fin who joined us very recently, and training more volunteers so that we can provide more support and more outreach services, helping more people.
We’ve never been clearer about our vision that in our local area there should be suitable housing for everyone who needs it, that no one should lie awake at night worrying about ending up homeless or sleep outside on our streets terrified about the future.
That is wrong and we have seen that ending homelessness is possible.
If you are worried about someone who is homeless, or worried about losing their home, please put them in touch with us as soon as possible.
And none of our work is possible without your support. We need your financial gifts so we can keep our hotline, support centre and drop-in sessions open, make sure no one misses out on the healthcare they need, make sure we have enough specialist staff to help as many people as possible and more. Please give generously to our Help and Hope Appeal. Thank you.