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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Sleeping uneasy

March 09 2011
Homelessness in Birmingham up 140 per cent in just over a year

Homelessness in Birmingham has risen by 140 per cent since January 2010, according to recent research from the YMCA.

The recession, a rise in family break-ups and a growing shortage of emergency accommodation are seen as having contributed to the startling increase.

Birmingham Christian Homeless Forum is keen to build on the YMCA's research by undertaking further fieldwork to get a clearer picture, and is hoping to carry out an unofficial "rough sleeper count". The last official count reported only nine rough sleepers, though anecdotal evidence from outreach teams suggests that number could now be as high as 20 or 30.

The extensive cutbacks nationwide have undoubtedly affected the services for the homeless in Birmingham. As government funding continues to dry up, organisations are struggling to accommodate the rising demand and need for services. Severe reductions in Supporting People (SP) funding have had the most substantial impact within Birmingham. Many schemes now support low-risk users only; others have been forced to close completely.

SIFA Fireside, a charity working with people who misuse alcohol, stopped running its six-bed wet hostel and its 21-bed dry hostel last year as a result of cuts in SP funding. Closures such as these make it increasingly difficult for services to refer people on to emergency accommodation.

Homeless young adults are of particular concern, with recent figures revealing that more than one in 10 of the 723 homeless applications lodged in the city in July was by 16- and 17-year-olds. However, the YMCA hopes to help tackle this situation with a new multi-million pound development in Erdington, comprising 83 self-contained flats, a nursery, a community hall, youth centre and meeting rooms. Additionally, the YMCA is looking to expand some of its current sites in an attempt to meet the service need.

Alan Fraser, the chief executive of Birmingham YMCA, said: "In response to a desperate shortage of accommodation for single homeless people, especially the young and most vulnerable, Birmingham YMCA is now looking to increase capacity at one of our sites by a further 20 rooms. However, these spaces do not currently receive any Supporting People funding, and so the range of services that we can offer will be limited.

"Demand is higher than ever... The situation is now so severe that we're having to open up these rooms in order to meet unprecedented demand. However, without ongoing revenue funding, this is not a sustainable solution long-term."

With the funding landscape so uncertain, more reliance is put upon fundraising and sponsorship to finance not only the expansion but ultimately the continuation of such services. Last month, the YMCA hosted a sponsored "sleep out" fundraising event as part of Poverty and Homelessness Action Week. People sheltering in cardboard boxes slept outside in car parks to raise awareness and funds for their local YMCA as part of the national 'Sleep Easy' campaign. In spite of freezing temperatures, over 80 people joined the sleep out which raised over £4,000.