Rough Sleeping and the Winter that Was

Birmingham City Council’s preventative and collaborative approach meant that when the government launched the ‘Everyone In’ initiative in March last year we were in a better place than most to respond to the pandemic.

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Our recent rough sleeping count showed 17 individuals bedded down in the city, a 67 per cent reduction on the 52 found the previous year which was already a substantial reduction from the 91 found in 2018.

The challenge going forward is to build on our preventative approach to support people at risk of sleeping rough before they ever get to the streets.

Cllr Sharon Thompson (Cabinet Member for Homes and Neighbourhoods) -

As a result of ‘Everyone In’ Birmingham City Council was able to accommodate all rough sleepers with a place in a Covid-19 secure, hostel or hotel. However, this has been an unprecedented year and whilst we have seen positive strides as a city and region, we know we have yet to see the true impact of Covid on housing and homelessness."

The challenge

While numbers may appear low when judged by the numbers of people sleeping rough in Birmingham on any single night, as we approached winter 2020, a focus on nighty numbers disguised a number of things:

  • Nearly 80 people with ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) status accommodated to protect them from Covid-19
  • Flow onto the streets; in January 2021 110 individuals slept rough for at least a night; in February 2021 this number was 90.
  • A core group of 30 people identified as entrenched rough sleepers, or vulnerable and frequent presenters on the street, for whom programmes to date had not been effective
  • A hard-working sector, stretched but committed to making the most of any opportunities presenting.

The solution

We recognised that the current need and flow of presenting need had the potential to be overwhelming and undermine efforts to keep people safe as well any hope of sustainable solutions. The solution had to be to share responsibility and tasks across programmes and the sector, while keeping the needs of the individual front and centre.

What that looked like

  • For those accommodated with NRPF status, a consistent review of the pandemic conditions allowed for continued provision and protection from homelessness. We have worked with a consortia of legal support providers and support providers to progress cases wherever possible. We have seen some success as numbers have reduced from 78 as we went into winter 2020 to 48 in March 2021, as outcomes including work, regularised immigration status, and section 4 accommodation have been achieved
  • Maintaining an open access point for vulnerable single homeless people to see Local Authority Housing Options Officers, who could then provide an appropriate assessment and response. From November to February we saw 600 individuals t directed into accommodation pathways.
  • Moving into 24-hour outreach by the addition of a nightshift. This provided clarity on who was bedding down on the streets, identifying need as rapidly as possible and enabled swift follow-up on the number of Streetlink referrals. This allowed us to regularly identify 2-3 people each night who would not have been found through other means.
  • Adopting the Protect Programme and sharing the responsibility and resources across 8 partner agencies, we targeted 30 individuals with personalised opportunities through the most relationally relevant agencies. Of those 30, only 3 remained on the street as of March 2021 with 14 having moved into longer-term accommodation. A befriending and activity offer has been crucial to addressing boredom and isolation in new accommodation – e.g. fishing trip, art sessions, football training.

The impact 

How is the new approach being sustained?

Much has been possible through what have been short-term opportunities e.g. Protect Programme and Next Steps Accommodation Programme. We hope that the next year of the Rough Sleeper Initiative allows the continuation and mainstreaming of the most effective interventions.

We must learn the lessons from the pandemic and make services, national funding and policies fit for purpose in order to meet those new challenges and with an aim to designing out homelessness for good."

Looking forward we are anticipating the mobilisation of Public Health England investment in drug treatment for rough sleepers and Shared Care investment in hospital discharge provision. In spring 2021 the Transition Centre opened, funded by NSAP, for rough sleepers with the most pressing health needs. We have also has a successful Housing First Pilot through which over 135 rough sleepers have been moved into permanent tenancies with as much support as needed, which is a critical factor to the overall progress.

Lessons learned

  • Be brave, act in the right way for the person;
  • Position services to where the need is most critical to relieve crisis;
  • Share the responsibility and resources and trust your partners;
  • Work to tip the balance in favour of effective prevention.


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