Two Cambridge councillors who have spent months researching Cambridge's homelessness crisis have put forward a radical plan to tackle the issue
Tim Bick and Nichola Harrison are calling for the creation of a Charter for Rough Sleeping and Street Life Issues – and they believe what is needed is "a community-wide understanding of these issues and a shared vision for tackling them".
The two Lib Dems, both of whom represent Cambridge's Market ward on the city and county councils respectively, have drawn up a 40-page report after speaking to rough sleepers themselves, the police, charities and other organisations.
The report recommends a twin approach to the problem – practical welfare help, and a housing scheme to get homeless people off the streets.
Cllr Harrison said: "Our aim was twofold. We wanted to help the residents that we represent to understand the situation they see every day on the streets in and around the city centre, and what is being done about it. And we wanted to highlight any ideas we might find that could improve the situation."
She and Cllr Bick interviewed more 30 professionals in the field in Cambridge, from both the city and county councils, as well as representatives of the police, the NHS and "third sector" organisations.
They have also explored the way homelessness issues are approached elsewhere – in Oxford, Peterborough and Camden.
Cllr Harrison said: "We were impressed and touched by the commitment of the people working in this field. The enquiry helped us understand what a complex subject this is and what difficult practical and ethical questions it raises."
Cllr Bick said: "We think the twin priorities are a welfare safety net, accompanied by help to get off the street as soon as possible.
"But with many suffering addictions and mental health problems, there are tensions between simply helping people stay as they are and helping them choose change – getting the balance right is important to bring about lasting improvement."
He said he and Cllr Harrison felt people should not give money to people begging.
He said: "We’ve learned that many rough sleepers don’t beg and many beggars aren’t homeless. Money isn’t needed to get a hostel place. It has been explained to us that most begging in Cambridge is done to feed expensive addictions to dangerous drugs.
"We completely understand that local people want to help people in need, say, by giving food or basic necessities; but we hope they will not hand cash to beggars.
"On the other hand, donating money to charities like Jimmy’s or Wintercomfort or the Cambridge Street Aid fund will help people get away and stay away from the street."
Cllr Harrison added: "We think that Cambridge has a good standard of support and accommodation for people who have been forced to sleep rough, and the police are also working positively on these issues.
"But we have come up with some suggestions for change – for example about widening the range of housing provision to include a scheme called Housing First that we found in Camden.
"We also think it is worthwhile looking at whether some services, which have been put into place at different times for different reasons, could be more joined up. And we feel that the Charter idea could help create a sense of common purpose among all those who care about these important issues."
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