Mayor calls for change in law as major report into rough sleeping launched
The lid has been taken off the growing problem of Liverpool’s rough sleepers in what is being described as the biggest report of its kind ever commissioned in the UK.
Doorways in Hanover Street, Bold Street and other city centre locations have become makeshift homes for a growing population of people with nowhere else to live - and a "pernicious" block on allowing them to claim benefits is being blamed.
The report, commissioned by Mayor Joe Anderson, reveals that a third of rough sleepers in the city are economic migrants from eastern Europe. It also shows that more than 70 percent of rough sleepers have mental health problems.
The report says around 6,000 people are helped every year in Liverpool to prevent them becoming homeless and, of those, a very small number of people end up rough sleeping.
Among the core cities, Liverpool is low down the list for the number of rough sleepers, compared with Manchester, which tops the list, Bristol and Birmingham.
The independent report has been written by John Finnegan, chief executive of the Liverpool Homeless Football League, and former rough sleeper Simon Whitter who hit the headlines last year when he cooked 1,000 Christmas meals for homeless people on Merseyside.
In it they identified 10 key action points to help tackle the underlying causes of rough sleeping.
Finnegan and Whitter also say the time has come for a major public awareness campaign to debunk myths around homelessness, and for the establishment of a new charity to ensure funds are directly benefiting those affected.
Their taskforce interviewed more than 130 people and organisations over three months and concluded that the public, private and voluntary sectors need to form a coordinated response in a bid to prioritise care and negate practices that are maintaining the “street lifestyle”, which is predominantly underpinned by substance misuse.
Mayor Anderson, who has used the launch of the report to call for a city wide action plan, said: “This report is the most comprehensive analysis undertaken of rough sleeping in any UK city and shows that rough sleeping is on the rise across the country. The reason for that lies firmly at the door of the government’s attitude to benefits and specifically the No Recourse for Public Funds.
“Rough Sleeping will never go away unless this pernicious policy is reversed. This needs cross-party support and is a cause I will be taking up with other city mayors to ensure the government understands a radical rethink is vital to solving this issue. It is not simply the case that more money will reduce this problem – this is going to require a new approach in how government at central and local level engage and act with our strategic partners and at grassroots level to address the very complex health needs of these unfortunate individuals.”
Whitter said: “Hopefully the recommendations in this report will help to make further steps forward in getting people the support and help needed – not just in Liverpool but across the UK.”