'On-track' five-year plan to tackle homelessness in Havering praised

Campaigners believe Havering is blind to the scale of homelessness in the borough (Picture: Ian Nich

Havering's housing lead Cllr Joshua Chapman said a number of measures had been introduced to address homelessness in the borough - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Havering is on track to deliver its five-year plan to tackle homelessness, according to the man in charge of the strategy. 

Cllr Joshua Chapman said despite the “dramatic rise in homelessness” caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the borough expects to deliver on the objectives in its Prevention of Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy. 

The council's efforts were also praised by the director of housing for the region's YMCA, who said rough sleeper statistics could give a misleading impression of the success of local policy.

The cabinet member for housing said “a number of key measures” had been introduced “to support and care for those who need our help”. 

These include establishing an outreach team with a drug and alcohol worker and a mental health nurse, working with the NHS to create a "hospital discharge pathway" to help people into appropriate accommodation, and buying back 30 former council properties. 

Cllr Chapman said plans were also “progressing well” on the development of a "welcome centre" for homeless families. 

He claimed that, as a result of the Havering Council’s work on homelessness, the number of rough sleepers and families in temporary accommodation had fallen in the borough. 

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According to a spokesperson, the council carries out monthly rough sleeper counts, with two people verified as sleeping rough on the borough’s streets in November 2021, compared with six in April 2020. 

They claimed there are currently no long-term rough sleepers on the streets of Havering and urged anyone who finds someone sleeping rough to notify the borough via Street Link. 

They also said the number of households in temporary accommodation had fallen from 1,090 in April 2020 to 1,045 in October 2021. 

READ MORE: Hidden homelessness and the impact of unaffordable housing explored

Figures from the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) paint a more complicated figure. 

CHAIN is a multi-agency database, commissioned and funded by the mayor of London Sadiq Khan and managed by St Mungo's, which records information about the street population in London.  

It claims to be the UK’s most detailed and comprehensive source of information about rough sleeping. 

According to its most recent statistics – which cover the period between July and September 2021 – there were four people in Havering known to be living on the streets and six intermittent rough sleepers. 

This was up from one and two, respectively, in the same period in 2020. 

This was also an increase on the previous quarter; between April and June 2021, there two people recorded as living on the streets and three intermittent rough sleepers. 

In the same period in 2020, CHAIN recorded nobody living on the streets and six intermittent rough sleepers. 

CHAIN defines a person as living on the streets if they have had a high number of contacts over three weeks or more. 

Intermittent rough sleepers are people who have been seen sleeping rough prior to the recording period and have been contacted during the recording period, but not regularly enough to be considered living there.  

However, Brian Cooke, director of housing at YMCA Thames Gateway, emphasised that increasing rough sleeper numbers do not always indicate a failure of policy locally – in fact, he said it can indicate the opposite. 

Brian Cooke. Picture: YMCA Thames Gateway

Brian Cooke. Picture: YMCA Thames Gateway - Credit: YMCA Thames Gateway

“What you run the risk of if you’ve got a successful homeless prevention service – guess what, you attract homeless people,” he said. 

He noted Havering, like other local authorities on the edge of London, often attracted people moving away from central London who have been unable to obtain social housing there. 

“Authorities like Havering are not only trying to deal with their own homelessness and their own housing needs, they are also having to deal with other people’s areas,” he said. 

He said he took a “positive view” of Havering’s efforts to eradicate homelessness, describing the borough as “one of the more responsive local authority housing departments”. 

He said Havering Council had been “passionate” about tackling mental health problems among homeless people and said he had recently seen a positive shift in the number of those who have spent a long time homeless being brought into accommodation and being engagement with local housing services. 

“That doesn’t mean the numbers of homelessness has come down because it’s where people are coming from,” he said.

READ MORE: Data shows scale of homeless deaths across east London in 2020