Statement regarding rough sleeping and the sad death of a homeless man in Bournemouth
Posted on Tuesday 23rd January 2018
Councillor Robert Lawton, Cabinet Member for Housing, made a statement at the Cabinet meeting today (24 January):
I am very aware that rough sleeping has been at the forefront of people’s minds recently and I note in particular, the very sad death on Monday of a man rough sleeping in Bournemouth. There is also the situation with the protest site in Boscombe. I would like to take the opportunity to provide Cabinet with some clear information on both these issues. I should also like to give some wider context to the year-round, day-to-day proactive work that is undertaken by our Council and its partners to address homelessness, and the provision of support to some of the most vulnerable members of our community.
Firstly, I would like to speak about the death of Mr Filsell on Monday. To be clear, I confirm that the Council did not remove Mr Filsell’s bedding and belongings, contrary to what has been suggested in the press. I can confirm that Mr Filsell was found with his bedding. I further confirm that our services have been attempting to engage with him for approximately 10 years. The St Mungo’s rough sleeper team had been offering support to him on a regular basis. However, for whatever reason, he felt unable to take up this support and regretfully turned down ongoing offers of help around his health and accommodation. Various agencies, including health services, the rough sleeper team and social care services nonetheless continued to encourage him to access help and worked hard to try and keep him as safe as possible in these very difficult circumstances. Our thoughts are with those affected by this very sad news, including those individuals who worked tirelessly to try and make a difference in this situation.
Secondly, I would like to update Cabinet about the protest site that is now in Boscombe. We know that protesters have been encouraging people who are rough sleeping to go and stay at this site and this is a great concern to us. We are concerned about the safety of this site and the welfare of vulnerable people who are being encouraged to stay there. Gathering information about who is staying on the site is not easy as people are coming and going, but the information that we do have suggests that there are only a small number of homeless people staying there, and the majority of people there are protesters. A key priority is the safety of all who may be staying at the site, especially those considered to be vulnerable. Our rough sleeper outreach team continue to offer support, and have been regularly visiting the entrance to offer support. There is ongoing coordinated work with Dorset Police, Social Care services and the rough sleeper team to address these concerns.
Of course, the hard work to address homelessness and to support people who are rough sleeping to move off the street and into accommodation continues year-round. The Council takes a proactive and robust approach and we are very mindful of the devastating impact homelessness has on those directly affected. Our comprehensive approach to rough sleeping is embedded within our Homelessness Strategy, which is monitored and reviewed through the multi-agency Homelessness Strategy Group.
We fund a wide range of services in order to prevent homelessness and assist people who are homeless to access and maintain accommodation. These services include the St Mungo’s rough sleeper team and approximately 150 hostel bed spaces for homeless people. There is also a specialist homelessness mental health worker who works closely with our homelessness teams. Our Reconnections Policy helps non-local people rough sleeping in Bournemouth to return to their home area to access accommodation and support.
Our Council homelessness services work closely with partner agencies including Social Care Services, drug and alcohol treatment, mental health and wider healthcare teams to ensure people receive the support they need. We also recognise that that it is not unusual for this support to be initially refused. This is why the rough sleeper team work to the ‘Assertive Outreach’ model, which means that they do not give up on anyone who is rough sleeping and continue to offer help and support no matter how many times they might be told to go away. They work hard to try and establish what the barrier is for the person who is struggling to take up the support and work to build trust in order to help people move forward. Sometimes this can take many months, sometimes even years. It is of note that despite such difficulties, in an average month the rough sleeper team assist more than 15 people to access suitable accommodation. The small and extremely dedicated team work tirelessly in all weathers all year round.
We recognise the vital work of the rough sleeper team which is why we committed an additional £70,000 per annum to provide additional workers to this team over the last two years. This has been in addition to the original budget commitment of £236,000 per annum making a total of £306,000 per annum.
We have acquired 50 properties purchased for the use of homeless people in Bournemouth, comprising a mixture of 1,2, and 3 bed and shared accommodation which provide 92 units. We have more properties under offer which will bring us up to 126 units by the end of March. Such is the urgency, this is ahead of programme and represents about half of the anticipated funding allocation to provide 267 units in total.
Rough sleeping is the most severe and visible form of homelessness. There is also much work to prevent and relieve homelessness for households who do not, thankfully, end up on the street. The Council’s Housing Options Team provides advice and assistance to all people presenting as homeless or at risk of homelessness. The team organises accommodation for those households to whom we have a duty under homelessness legislation. Every month we engage with approximately 1,000 people at the Town Hall seeking advice and assistance on housing and homelessness concerns.
We recognise the goodwill and compassion of the Bournemouth community who wish to support the needs of the small group of homeless people at the current site in Boscombe. However, we discourage people from donating items to the Boscombe site which simply doesn’t conform to the high standards of safety, security and supervision which we would deem acceptable. We urge people to donate through the recognised charities and organisations which can be found at: www.bournemouth.gov.uk/makechangecount who will ensure that their generosity is appropriately directed to those in genuine need.
We know that homelessness has increased in Bournemouth, as it has nationally over recent years. Locally we are working extremely hard to address these complex issues and we are always considering our overall approach and services, especially around rough sleeping. Our services are constantly evolving to better meet people’s needs.
To provide this level of support demonstrates the strong and robust commitment of our Council to do much more to support the homeless than most people would expect. The properties purchased and the additional funding which has been provided over the past two years is exceptional, and our plans to keep this work as a priority will be included in the Council’s budget announcement next month.