Council and homeless agencies dispute strategy to reduce rough sleeping

How to reduce rough sleeping is causing some debate
How to reduce rough sleeping is causing some debate

Homelessness agencies need to start working together and stop spreading ‘misinformation’ if Northampton is to truly tackle the rough sleeping crisis.

That’s the verdict of a Northampton Borough Council staff member giving evidence at a scrutiny panel investigating homelessness this week.

But one of the groups singled out, Project 16:15, has disputed the claims and says that they only ‘call it as they see it’.

The council’s housing options and advice manager Emma Forbes told councillors on the panel that ‘a change of approach’ from some homelessness agencies was "undermining council efforts and, in some instances, sustaining rough sleeping".

The scrutiny committee was also told on Thursday evening (September 6) that social media posts from some organisations were spreading ‘personal abuse’ that were undermining efforts from other groups.

Mrs Forbes said: “A small number of groups, services and organisations are not sharing information, working in a collaborative, joined-up way or delivering a consistent message.

“Too many people are condoning rough sleeping and, intentionally or unintentionally, sustaining people on the streets rather than doing everything they can to help them come off the streets.

“It is essential also that groups - such as Project 16:15 - stop using misinformation and personal abuse on social media to undermine the action other groups are taking to tackle, prevent and reduce rough sleeping.

“Misinformation and adversarial posts on social media have put street outreach workers at risk of abuse from those who are sleeping rough and members of the public because of the way they have been portrayed.”

But those claims have been disputed by Stan Robertson from Project 16:15.

He maintains that some homeless people were not happy with the manner in which they were approached by the outreach workers.

“We go out and make homeless people feel as though they have worth and self-value," he said.

“I have also praised the outreach workers on social media when I’ve seen some good things, but it works both ways.

“I had one member of the public come up to me who had spoken with a member of the outreach team and had effectively been told that they were a problem because they kept feeding them.”

In her written statement Mrs Forbes believes that some groups, such as Project 16:15, have ‘actively discouraged homeless people from leaving the streets’. She also criticised some agencies for failing to share information with the council, saying there could be ‘no justification’ for doing so.

Project 16:15, which was started back in November, helps to deliver breakfast to rough sleepers in the Northampton area.

And its founder Mr Robertson, 50, from Kingsley, who himself has been homeless, argued that the council’s approach was not working.

He said: “We’re talking here about an organisation that claims that people like me, who have seen it all, are encouraging people to become homeless, and disagree with feeding people because it encourages them to stay on the streets.”

During the last rough sleeper count in November last year, volunteers noted 13 people sleeping rough in the borough while 11 were placed in the emergency night shelter.

But The Hope Centre recently stated on its website that 60 people were sleeping rough in Northampton every night.

One idea proposed at the meeting to potentially move relations forward was the formation of a homelessness forum, comprised of members from each local agency and organisation. It is an idea that Mr Robertson, and Project 16:15, feels may have some value.

But he added: “If the council want to have a conversation with myself and others then it cannot be controlled just by them, and it needs to be done so in public.”