Page added on March 7, 2013
By James McLean of the Homeless Not Worthless campaign:
As part of the campaign group Homeless Not Worthless, I needed answers from the council about the homeless strategy they wanted to implement and how they were going to deliver it.
The best place to get those answers was from the man tasked with the implementation of the strategy. So, I arranged to meet the responsible assistant mayor, Councillor Andy Connelly at a neutral venue. He chose the place and I chose the direction of the conversation. Having already given him the questions he should have been well prepared in advance-a courtesy the council never gave homeless people when they came up with the strategy. After polite introductions and a cup of tea, we got down to business. To start off, I asked him something easy.
I asked him ‘How much of these policies are coming from central government?’. He answered that as far as he is aware none of the proposals being adopted by Leicester City Council are being directed from Central Government – so the Labour run council is implementing these policies themselves – and Leicester adopted the No Second Night Out practice this summer. Of which Leicester has its own guidelines.
I then asked ‘Who makes the final decision about the homeless strategy?’ Andy Connelly said that the decision will be made by the Executive of Leicester City Council which consists of:
Sir Peter Soulsby – City Mayor
Councillor Rory Palmer – Deputy City Mayor
Councillor Piara Singh Clair – Assistant City Mayor
Councillor Andy Connelly – Assistant City Mayor
Councillor Vi Dempster – Assistant City Mayor
Councillor Rita Patel – Assistant City Mayor
Councillor Sarah Russell – Assistant City Mayor
Councillor Manjula Sood – Assistant City Mayor.
The final decision will be signed off by Sir Peter and Andy Connelly.
I then asked him ‘Have you thought about the consequences of these proposals’? – especially when you take into consideration, you expect an increase in demand on services.’
He said that he has thought of the consequences of the decision. This was exactly the answer I expected, so I then asked him what problems he envisaged with the proposals. He stated very clearly that if the strategy did not prevent more homeless it would actually increase it and that he hadn’t seen the evidence on how the council would be able to deliver the aims of the strategy.
So, clearly from this statement alone the councillor is not sure whether the strategy in its current format would work.
I then went on to ask if they had looked at alternative savings? He said ‘We have.’
This is when I mentioned the £780,000 subsidy given to the Curve Theatre every year and whether it was right that they should cut money from the housing budget but not to an Arts project as I put it. Especially since £280,000 of that money would stop such a vital service as YASC (The Y Advice and Support Centre at The Dawn Centre) from shutting down. He pointed out that although it may be busy now, it still needed the subsidy to keep it in business. He also stated that they are now looking to make the £2.2million savings from the homeless part of the housing budget over a longer period. This means that rather than having to save this amount over the 2 year period as originally suggested they would now be looking to make these savings over a longer period until 2016. They are also now looking to make those savings from somewhere else in the housing budget.
I then asked Councillor Connelly ‘Are you aware that 90% of homeless cases are due to family or relationship breakdown?’
This figure surprised him and he said that he never thought it was this high. He thought it was only 70 or 80%.
So I went on to ask him how they will prevent this from happening.
He said again that he hadn’t seen any evidence on how the council would deliver this but had concerns about the strategy as clients could end up being mixed in with vulnerable people and this could create future problems.
I then asked him ‘Are you aware that since 2010 the amount of homeless people in the UK has risen from 32,250 to a staggering 50,000? He was acutely aware of this so I asked – ‘Are you aware of the reasons why?’
He said that benefit changes (sanctions), the recession, the slow down in earnings, less housing being built and low stock of social housing.
I then asked him if he was aware of the destruction of homeless services and the effect that this has had across the country. He didn’t seem to be aware of this fact even when I told him about the decimation of homeless services in Nottingham just up the road.
I then asked ‘Are you aware that the rate of suicides, have risen in the same period due to unfair and unnecessary cuts and the legal ramifications of this?’
He was aware of this and this is when I discussed with him the impact of the council telling people that the services in Leicester were due to be cut and the effect this has already had on the mental health of people who will be affected. He assured me that the council have a very well paid legal team to deal with any cases that may arise from the councils decisions.
I moved on to ask ‘Are you aware of the legal ramifications of what you are proposing?’
Again he said that they were trying to minimise the suffering that people would endure due to any cuts and that these concerns were in the forefront of their minds when making the decision. I informed him that if the strategy goes ahead in its current format that I would be asking for a Judicial Review although I did not tell him on the grounds that this would be brought to court.
I then asked him if he was aware how much Leicester had spent on alleviating the homeless problem in Leicester over the last 10 years?
He guessed about £50-60 million - which was about right - and I asked him how he felt about destroying all the hard work that had been done if the strategy goes ahead in its current format. He again said that my concerns were also his concerns.
This is where I asked him a very simple question: How many properties are currently available through Homecome (the vehicle set up by the council to bring dis-used properties back into use)?
He wasn’t aware how many and explained that Homecome was only a vehicle to bring the properties back into use it was not an alternative to hostels. And that he again was not sure the strategy would be delivered with a positive outcome.
I then asked why they would want to shut YASC , when even the staff at Housing Options sent people that they could not help (due to local connection statutory obligation) to YASC.
He again said he was not convinced that shutting daycentres would help them achieve the goals set out in the strategy and that he believes shutting them could actually lead to pushing people into more problems and not solving them.
We finished at this point and his parting statement says all you need know about the strategy.
He said ‘I don’t want the budget to drive the strategy and I am not convinced the route we are taking is the right one.’