Annual rough sleeper count at five-year low in Reading

An annual count of rough sleeping in Reading found that 19 people bedded down on the streets on 12th November 2020, the lowest recorded since 2015.

The annual count of rough sleepers, designed to provide a snapshot of a typical night in Reading, was well below the 28 taken on the previous year’s count and reflects the Council’s success in tackling homelessness throughout the challenges provided by COVID-19.

With the backdrop of coronavirus restrictions and the need to ensure COVID-19 security, different methods were used this year to the usual count. A ‘spotlight’ count undertaken by the Council’s street outreach partners St Mungo’s was used to inform a multi-agency intelligence-led estimate meeting that determined who was likely to have been rough sleeping. It was agreed that 19 individuals would likely bed down in Reading on ‘a typical night’.

Reading Borough Council’s response to rough sleeping over the past year has included responding immediately to the Government’s ‘Everyone In’ initiative prompted by COVID-19. At the height of the first phase of the pandemic in March 2020, local authorities across the UK were ordered to provide temporary accommodation to rough sleepers, and those at risk of rough sleeping, as part of the campaign. The swift response in Reading was possible due to the Council’s rent guarantee scheme and early intervention programme which had taken families out of B&Bs, taking the pressure off the sector and freeing up capacity to help accommodate rough sleepers.

In Reading, 264 unique individuals who were rough sleeping or at risk of rough sleeping were placed in local B&B and hotel accommodation between then and August 2020, helping to keep them safe. 45 of those remain in the accommodation, with a further 10 in temporary Council accommodation. 130 have been helped to move on either through supported accommodation, private rented accommodation or reconnected safely with friends and family. Subsequently over 40 individuals have been accommodated through Winter Provision.

Reading Borough Council was successful in securing funds from the Government to enable a provision of accommodation during the winter for anyone found rough sleeping and is currently helping around 40 people through the Winter Provision initiative which began on 17 December and will continue until 31 March. Adapted this year due to coronavirus, the Council has used grant money from the MHCLG (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) to offer COVID-secure accommodation at hotels and B&Bs, providing individuals with their own room with en-suite to reduce the risk of shared spaces.

The effect of the Winter Provision meant that numbers of rough sleepers were reduced to between 2-6 people on any night in January; known individuals who, either have accommodation available but are temporarily not using it or are refusing to engage with any offer of accommodation. Outreach services continue to work with them to encourage them to accept or use the offer of accommodation.

Reading Borough Council’s future plans to tackle homelessness include a £2 million investment in 40 modular temporary accommodation units at Cattle Market in Great Knollys Street to rehouse rough sleepers accommodated in B&B accommodation during the pandemic. The new ‘pods’ on Great Knollys Street will arrive in the spring with the first people accommodated soon after that.

Cllr John Ennis, Lead Member for Housing, said:
“I am pleased that the annual count of rough sleepers is at its lowest for five years. Against a very challenging backdrop of COVID-19, the success of getting rough sleepers off the streets, and moving people on from emergency placements, has been due to significant and relentless efforts from staff in our Housing team.

There is always more that can be done and working collaboratively with our commissioned services St Mungo’s, Launchpad and the Salvation Army as well as our faith sector we will continue to lead the way in addressing homelessness and minimising its impact”.