No one should have to sleep rough in our city. There are always enough beds in our shelters and hostels to make sure this is the case.
However, reducing the number of rough sleepers is not as simple as just providing beds.
Each rough sleeper on our streets has their own individual story to tell. And as such, needs individual support to help them into accommodation.
Did you know that the average life expectancy of a rough sleeper is just 47? That’s a good 30 years less than the national average and this is why our ultimate aim is to support those sleeping rough in getting off the streets for good.
Back in the autumn we teamed up with partners to help to launch the Safer Off The Streets campaign, aimed at ending rough sleepers in the city once and for all.
The scheme features a number of initiatives which are already making a positive difference.
These include a new contactless card window outside the Argo Lounge in St Peter’s Arcade, allowing people to make instant secure £3 donations.
In just over two months, £2,345 has been pledged to the partnership and many rough sleepers have been supported in getting off the streets for good, which is a fantastic start!
If you haven’t already made a donation, please visit the contactless card window at Argo Lounge or visit the donations page on the Safer Off The Streets website.
This week we received three sizeable pots of money from Central Government.
Our bid for £1million to become an Integrated Pilot Area was successful. It will boost opportunities for young people, improve opportunities for work and continue to develop community cohesion.
We’ve also received £1.5million of funding to improve our roads after last year’s bashing from the ‘Beast from the East’.
Lastly, we’ve teamed up with eight local authorities and AgilityEco to secure £6.5million to install central heating for the first time in up to 1,500 homes, including those at St Michael’s Gate.
Not bad for just a week, let’s hope next week is the same!
There is an old saying that every great city is only that way because of the people who live there.
Well, Sunday’s Civic Remembrance service in the city centre demonstrated just how great the people of Peterborough truly are.
I’ve not seen Bridge Street so packed for a long time – there must have been thousands of people who came along to pay their respects.
This year’s event was especially poignant as not only did Remembrance Day fall on a Sunday but the occasion also marked 100 years since the signing of the Armistice which led to the end of the First World War.
We were anticipating big crowds and put up a giant TV screen in Cathedral Square so that people could watch the military parade along Bridge Street, wreath laying by the war memorial and two minute silence which was impeccably observed.
We also streamed live footage from the event on the council’s Facebook page and I’m informed that many people watched this online.
So I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who came along – you are a credit to our wonderful city.
I know that the servicemen and women who attended were deeply touched by the huge turnout and saw firsthand that the people of Peterborough will never forget those who fought for the freedoms we enjoy today.
Fakes send out serious message
Peterborough has hit the national headlines not once, but twice this week. The Sun and The Mirror picked up on a story which you might have seen in this paper last week about 1,000 imported teddy bears which were destroyed by our Trading Standards team.
While they looked nice and cuddly, the eyes and noses on the teddy bears were badly designed and could easily fall off, creating a choking hazard for babies and young children.
There is serious message here – please be careful when buying toys in the run up to Christmas.
On Monday, our city made the national headlines again, this time for taking part in a postal and proxy voting pilot for the local elections in May 2019.
You might remember, Peterborough was part of a similar pilot last year which lead to a 47 per cent reduction in postal vote rejection rates.
It will focus on the importance of individuals completing their postal vote themselves and requiring anybody who has been appointed as a proxy to vote on someone else’s behalf to supply photographic ID at the polling station.
We take the issue of election fraud extremely seriously and are committed to ensuring that all elections are fair processes.
Christmas lights switch-on
With the clocks going back, temperatures dipping and being greeted by frozen car windscreens in the mornings, this week has certainly felt a lot like winter!
However, one of the best things about this time of year is the build up to Christmas beginning, which leads me nicely on to a big event coming up soon.
Our annual Christmas lights switch-on always attracts huge crowds to the city centre and I’m sure this year’s occasion will be no different.
The event takes place on Friday November 16 with a fun-filled lineup of entertainment from 4pm until 8pm which all the family can come and enjoy.
This is the first time it has been held on a Friday, so make a date in your diary and why not combine it with some Christmas shopping or a nice meal out?
The big switch-on is happening at 7.30pm when myself and the city Mayor will be joined by Father Christmas (how does he find the time right now?) to press the button.
Once the city centre is beautifully lit up, the evening will be rounded off with a burst of fireworks.
In last week’s column I focused on the work we are doing to help homeless families in the city by pledging £4 million to provide new homes in Midland Road and Bretton Court.
I also highlighted how we are actively working with residents in St Michael’s Gate to help address any issues they are having with their accomodation.
This leads me on to the excellent work we have done to bring over a quarter of empty homes in the city back into use over the past 12 months.
Of the 574 privately-owned properties in the city that have been empty for more than six months, 31 per cent (179 empty homes) were brought back into use last year as part of our Empty Homes strategy.
Last week the Peterborough Telegraph reported on concerns raised by councillors and city MP Fiona Onasanya around accommodation at St Michael’s Gate.
This week we met with ward councillors who brought us up to speed with why some residents feel dissatisfied with their accommodation. This was a very productive meeting and we were able to give these councillors information which proved that some of the concerns were unfounded.
Residents are allowed to change energy providers, they are allowed to use wifi and it is the council that pays £245 for accommodation, rather than the tenant themselves. The cost to the council is less than half what would be charged for B&B style accommodation. In regards to the suitability of the building and its heating, our housing enforcement officers will begin visiting every property at St Michael’s Gate in person starting from next week. Full housing assessments will take place and if any issues are discovered we will work with housing firm Stef & Philips to remedy them quickly.
We have given our assurance to the ward councillors attending the meeting that we will keep them closely updated on this. We would have liked to offer the same assurance to the city’s MP, however she was unavailable and could not attend the meeting.
At the beginning of the year I made a commitment to look at whether there is anything further we could do to prevent people becoming homeless or to encourage rough sleepers to accept our support.
To that end I set up a cross-party rough sleeping task and finish group, led by Independent -Werrington First councillor Stephen Lane, which last week began its investigations by going on a walkabout of the city centre to see the issues first hand.
After hearing about the support our housing team currently provides and the shelter accommodation offered by Axiom Housing Association and faith groups as part of the Light Project, they went out onto the streets of the city centre to speak to people who are sleeping rough.
The matter of homelessness and rough sleeping is a topic that has attracted significant interest in the media in recent weeks.
It’s an important and sensitive issue not just on a local level, but also on the regional and national agenda. I want to take this opportunity to talk about it a little more and some new initiatives we are working towards.
In Peterborough it is estimated there are 21 people sleeping rough, up from 15 last year. Nationally, the 2015 rough sleeping count showed that 3,569 people were rough sleeping in England on a single night, up 102 per cent from 2010. This figure is expected to rise for 2016.
Responsibility for the management of rough sleepers in Peterborough and the support services available to them sits within our Housing Needs department. They work closely with the Prevention and Enforcement Service and our partner agencies including the police. We have a dedicated rough sleeper outreach worker who is currently working with 16 rough sleepers in an attempt to get them off the streets and into appropriate and safe accommodation.
As I write this week’s column I’m just a few hours away from the final full council meeting of the year.
One of the items up for discussion is a petition relating to St Michael’s Gate in Parnwell which asks councillors to debate and reconsider the decision to use the properties for our homeless families.
The council has now entered into a contract with Stef and Phillips so it’s too late to reconsider. However, I stand by the decision for reasons I have explained previously.
The alternative, if we’d said no, is that the homes would have been offered to another local authority who would then use them to house their own families in housing need. These are people we would then have a duty to support at a time when services such as education and social care are already stretched. The existing households that live in St Michael’s Gate would still have to find somewhere else to live. In addition, we’d have had to make cuts to our services next year to the tune of £2million, which would have affected every resident in the city.