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Zero in Huddersfield

May 05 2010
One Yorkshire town has no rough sleepers

Rough sleepers are a thing of the past - at least in Huddersfield, which claims to have no one sleeping on its streets.

Rather than following the Westminster tactic of hot washing, the West Yorkshire town has opted for offering "personalised" support through a street homeless project.

Funded by the Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG), the project grew out of job advice sessions held at the Methodist Mission café in Huddersfield, a popular hub for local homeless people. It is being led by Ian Brooke, who took secondment from his job as a Homeless Assessment Officer with Kirklees Council at the end of August. Others involved in the project include Kirklees Council 'street rangers', housing organisations and groups such as drugs and alcohol charity Kirklees Lifeline.

With just 13 known rough sleepers, compared to Westminster's 109, providing accommodation for all was always going be easier in Huddersfield. But the results do seem to be positive: one individual has got a permanent tenancy with Kirklees Neighbourhood Housing; three have been helped into private renting; and the rest are in temporary accommodation.

This temporary accommodation consists of units rented by the project from Kirklees Neighbourhood Housing. Mr Brooke explained: "It's very much about assisting people in temporary accommodation to learn to stabilise things before we move them on. So some people will move on quicker than others". The project currently provides help to the former rough sleepers through "floating support" provided by the voluntary sector, such as Simon On The Streets, a homeless charity based in Leeds and Huddersfield.

However, Mr Brooke is also aware that the 'zero' figure is temporary: "It remains to be seen how things go. There are people who have been tempted to go back on the streets because that's what they're used to, and in a sense it's easier because of difficulty dealing with bills and utilities". Yet with support from the Methodist Mission (and himself), he hopes to stop people's problems becoming too "calamitous".

The project also has limited scope, only helping those actually sleeping on the streets rather than those staying with friends, for example. Mr Brooke said: "It [the project] doesn't really fit the stringent legalities of homeless legislation and we were concerned that people may be sofa-surfing and spin us a tale to get into temporary accommodation through a back door.

"So the only test we've had is whether someone is literally sleeping on the streets. We've either known these people long-term, have evidence from the street rangers or have had to go out ourselves and make 100 per cent sure that, yeah, they are on the streets, therefore we will help them".

Mr Brooke also admitted that there are still "plenty" of sofa surfers in the area. But, as he added, "the street homeless project is precisely that: to get people off the streets". So the street rangers aren't out of a job just yet? "No, they deal with a whole load of other issues, you name it: antisocial behaviour, even traffic problems".

Mr Brooke's secondment ends in September, as does funding for the project. We'll watch with interest to see what happens to the project (and the rough sleepers) then.