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Rough Sleepers Initiative

The Earl of Woolton asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers): The Rough Sleepers Initiative, which has operated in central London since 1990, has been an outstanding example of co-operation between government and voluntary organisations to bring effective help to people in the greatest need. This partnership to tackle the problems of people sleeping rough in central London has helped thousands of people to start a new life away from the streets, and has prevented many more from having to sleep rough. When the Rough Sleepers Initiative began, voluntary sector agencies estimated that between 1,000 and 2,000 people were sleeping rough in central London. The numbers now sleeping rough in this area have fallen to around 270 on any one night. This is a tremendous achievement.

By the end of this month, the Government will have invested over £180 million through the initiative, providing at least 3,300 permanent homes, 950 short-term hostel places, 700 places in flats and houses leased from the private sector for up to three years, an annual winter shelter programme of up to 400 beds (with further emergency beds available during episodes of particularly severe weather) and, importantly, year-round outreach and resettlement work to engage people sleeping rough and to support them in moving to new accommodation.

The White Paper, Our Future Homes: Opportunity, Choice, Responsibilities, published in June 1995, confirmed that the Government would continue a programme to help people sleeping rough in central London beyond March 1996, and would also consider assisting the development of the Rough Sleepers Initiative model in areas outside central London where rough sleeping could be demonstrated to be a major problem.

In October 1995, the Government issued a consultation paper on future plans for the initiative. The paper invited views on a number of proposals for continuing the initiative in central London. It also asked local authorities outside central London to assess the extent of rough sleeping in their areas. Two hundred and fifty-eight responses to the consultation document were received.

Following analysis of those responses, we are publishing today a strategy paper, Rough Sleepers Initiative, The Next Challenge, which sets out our plans for a third phase of the initiative over the next three years, 1996-97 to 1998-99. The emphasis of the third

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phase will be on providing extra help for the hard core of people who have been sleeping rough for considerable periods of time, often because they suffer complex problems, such as mental ill health or alcohol or drug misuse, which require special care.

The department plans to make £73 million available over the next three years to fund the third phase of the Rough Sleepers Initiative. In addition, we plan to make £25 million available over the same period in grants under Section 73 of the Housing Act 1985 to voluntary sector agencies for the relief of homelessness.

In central London, our plans for the third phase of the initiative are to fund:

the provision of at least 250 new homes providing permanent accommodation for people sleeping rough;

up to 40 beds in permanent high care accommodation for the homeless mentally ill; up to 200 new beds in hostel accommodation; continued funding for some hostel and nightshelter accommodation already funded under the initiative; ring-fencing of up to 80 beds in existing hostels (about 30 of which would be for clients with disruptive behaviour and 50 specifically for clients referred by outreach agencies); up to 30 beds in a new "wet" hostel for people sleeping rough who have drink problems; an annual programme of winter shelters for people at risk of sleeping rough during the coldest months of the year; and more effective outrech and resettlement work.

Also, we plan to retain the Clearing House system as a means of allocating permanent accommodation until at least March 1997; and to uphold the current criteria for access to permanent accommodation (people sleeping rough or with a clear history of sleeping rough).

Responses to the consultation document did not provide clear, quantified evidence of a major problem with rough sleeping in any area beyond central London. Therefore, our plans for the rest of England will impact in two stages.

First, we will extend the Rough Sleepers Initiative to Bristol, the only area outside central London where a major rough sleeping problem has been demonstrated conclusively. Bristol City Council is invited to form a consortium with voluntary sector organisations, the private sector, housing associations, the Housing Corporation, the police, health care providers and other relevant bodies. The consortium will be expected to agree a local strategy for targeting rough sleeping in Bristol, and to bid for Government resources.

Second, we will be proposing further evaluation of the extent of rough sleeping in 23 other areas where local authorities have identified a possible problem, before deciding whether there is a need to extend the initiative further. These areas are Basingstoke, Bath, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Brighton, Cambridge, Exeter, Gloucester, Leicester, Manchester, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Reading, Tunbridge Wells, York;

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and the London boroughs of Barnet, Ealing, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, Richmond-upon-Thames, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.

As part of the Government's strategy, the Department of Health is further developing the Homeless Mentally Ill Initiative to complement the extension of the RSI by making available £2 million per year from the Mental Illness Specific Grant (MISG). This nearly doubles the £2.2 million per year already spent from the MISG on this initiative, which has so far cost over £20 million. The additional resources will target both the care needs of those requiring long-term high care accommodation

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and will also enable specialist staff to provide support to those with mental health problems in direct access hostels. This additional help to local authorities will enable the Government to build on the successes already achieved in central London and to develop services for homeless mentally ill people based on the lessons learned from the HMII in other centres.

The Government are committed to ensuring that there is no necessity to sleep rough. What we are announcing today aims to achieve this.

Copies of the strategy paper have been placed in the Library and the Printed Paper Office. Copies of the responses may be viewed at the Department of the Environment's library.

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