What happened to council pledge to reduce Northampton's rough sleepers "to zero" by mid-2017?

The borough council pledged to reduce Northampton's rough sleeper number to "as close to zero" by mid-2017.
The borough council pledged to reduce Northampton's rough sleeper number to "as close to zero" by mid-2017.

A borough council pledge to reduce Northampton's rough sleepers to "as close to zero" remains unfulfilled almost two years on.

The local authority's 2016 "Together We Can Change Lives" strategy to tackle Northampton's homeless problem pledged to virtually solve the issue by June 2017.

But sources at the town's top homelessness support charity report that there still as many as 60 rough sleepers on our streets today.

It comes after many complaints were received in July about a camp of up to 15 rough sleepers that had been in Abington Street for over 10 weeks.

Nearby businesses reported that the camp drank in the day and could be abusive to members of the public, while a legal representative of nearby pub The Wedgewood called the council's response as "the worst inaction I've ever seen".

Northampton Borough Council has been contacted for a comment.

The town's rough sleeping problem was highlighted in the Chronicle & Echo's recent survey, in which many residents expressed how camps of homeless people were a reason they would not come to Northampton.

But the CEO of Northampton homelessness support charity The Hope Centre, Robin Burgess, says not enough is being done to support rough sleepers during the day.

Robin said: "People are right to be concerned. But there doesn't seem to be an obvious solution to rough sleepers' housing needs.

"We need more direct housing intervention. We see 120 people a day who we help get off the streets and into work, training or support.

"We need to see other services play their part to offer night shelters and provisions to get them off the street.

"The answer is not enforcement or criminalisation. The answer is helping them."

It also comes after a Northampton pensioner collected over 500 signatures to petition the council to build a day shelter for rough sleepers.

Robin said: "If you want to help Northampton's rough sleepers, one thing you should not do is give them money directly. They should be encouraged to engage with services and the Hope Centre and find help.

"The Hope Centre is always in need of suncream and hats and bottled water in this heat. But we are also constantly in need of men's underwear. It's about human dignity."

Northampton Borough Council says that, during the past 18 months, more than 220 homeless men have stayed in Northampton’s night shelter and a total of 24 women have been provided with emergency, bed and breakfast accommodation to prevent them from sleeping rough. The majority of these men and women have been helped to move on, successfully, into settled housing.

Councillor Stephen Hibbert, Northampton Borough Council’s cabinet member for housing and wellbeing, said: “We believe the number of rough sleepers in Northampton is much lower than the Hope Centre's assessment, so we’re not sure where their figures come from or what they include.

"Most of those who remain on the streets are, for a variety of reasons, unwilling to engage with the excellent support services available. Hand-outs are a big part of this and we would urge people, rather than giving directly to people begging on the streets, to donate to those support services instead.

"Our night shelter has benefited a significant number of people during its 18 months in operation and aims not only to offer warmth and shelter, but also a way for rough sleepers to get off the streets permanently."

Anyone who is concerned about someone who is sleeping rough should contact the Council’s Street Outreach Team on (01604) 837344/5 or by e-mail at outreachteam@northampton.gov.uk

For more information or to support the Northampton Nightshelter, visit www.northampton.gov.uk/northamptonnightshelter