Housing, not church halls, for rough sleepers in Chelmsford
This winter, people who are facing the prospect of sleeping rough in Chelmsford will have more help available to them than ever, with an array of support offered by members of the city's Homelessness Forums.
The single person's Homelessness Forum was formed by the Lib Dem-led city council in 2020, with a Families' Forum now also underway.
These Homelessness Forums aim to end homelessness in Chelmsford. They are made up of agencies and charities who all have some involvement in supporting people who are sleeping on the streets or facing that possibility. The council, NHS, police, Peabody, CHESS Homeless, Sanctus, and other agencies, charities and volunteer groups are all involved.
For the past 20 years, the council and CHESS Homeless have jointly provided extra winter beds in church halls in a scheme known as the Winter Project. This winter, for the first time, the council is confident that - so long as there is not a big rise in homelessness - there should be no need for people to sleep in places like church halls.
In the past year, more than forty additional beds have been added to the city's available accommodation meaning there are now more than 70 places available for anyone sleeping rough. This accommodation is available all year round - not just during the winter and includes the following.
- Eight self-contained apartments for those with complex needs. In the past, the approach of many local authorities was to encourage people to deal with issues like substance abuse before giving them a home. Lib Dem led CCC now follows the 'Housing First' model, which gives people a stable and secure place to live before helping them through other challenges they may be facing.
- Cases of domestic abuse can sometimes lead to homelessness, particularly for women fleeing harmful relationships. Domestic abuse charity Safer Places and CHESS are now providing extra bedspaces for women sleeping rough for this reason.
- Fifteen beds will be available through Housing Dilemmas for ex offenders who are at risk of living on the streets after leaving prison.
People staying in these beds will have on-hand support from workers at CHESS, Housing Dilemmas and Helping Hands Essex. This support means they can get one-to-one mentoring, help applying for benefits and accessing their funds, recovery services for any addiction or substance abuse issues, advice to help them overcome challenges, and much more.
Cllr Stephen Robinson, Leader of Chelmsford City Council, said,"I am delighted that this winter, Chelmsford is offering more accommodation than ever before for people who might otherwise be sleeping rough.
Previously, the Winter Project has been invaluable in protecting some of our most vulnerable residents, thanks to the churches and others who have participated. However, we are now able to provide far more appropriate and diverse accommodation and we plan that people should no longer need to bed down in church halls.
If you are sleeping rough or facing homelessness, there is probably a complex and individual set of circumstances which caused that to happen to you. We aim to provide a route to a place that feels like a home, where you're not alone and where you can get help to permanently change your life for the better. That's how we're increasingly preventing and addressing homelessness and ending rough sleeping.
If you are homeless or threatened with homelessness in Chelmsford, please know that there is a place for you to stay and there is support."
Rob Saggs, CEO of CHESS Homeless, said, "Homelessness is rising in the wake of the pandemic and I feel that the full toll is yet to be felt. We are beginning to see job losses, relationship breakdowns, and higher possibility of people becoming homeless. The fact that so much help is available now is very timely and I hope that CHESS and other agencies can bring relief and support to many people in need."
If you are worried about someone who is or appears to be homeless, please use Streetlink to tell us, with as much relevant detail as possible. When you send an alert through Streetlink, a trained outreach worker comes out to check on the person's welfare and talk to them about the help available. There is also a Streetlink app, downloadable through the Apple or Android stores.
If you are, or might soon be, homeless yourself, please contact Chelmsford City Council as soon as possible. The earlier you get in touch, the more can be done; you may even be able to stay in your current home if that's appropriate. The council's housing team wants to help and will do all they can to assist you.