Thursday 19 January 2017

Open letter on homelessness

I recently signed the letter that follows this. For a few years now I have taken an interest in homelessness, and whilst I cannot pretend to do as much as many people (like John Barber who invited me to sign this) I do what I can, when I can.

I believe that no response has come so far.

To:       Rob Tinlin (Chief Executive of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council)
John Lamb (Leader of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council)

We appreciate Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s efforts to encourage appropriate accommodation during the cold months for rough sleepers in Southend-on-Sea. The reality is there are many rough sleepers not able to access accommodation or winter night shelters and consequently sleep on the streets each night. Periodically, these people sleeping rough are under the age of eighteen. As you will be aware, for minors, there is a legal obligation to provide accommodation for those who are without shelter.

We applaud the work of the many charities and volunteers in Southend-on-Sea working tirelessly to provide shelter for the most vulnerable. This includes the valuable provision of the church’s winter night shelters run in partnership with HARP and Southend Borough Council. However, due to the firmer criteria regarding access to the night shelters there are many rough sleepers who cannot access these shelters. We appreciate firmer criteria are in place for safeguarding and health and safety reasons. Consequently, there may be more rough sleepers on the streets at night than those who are in the shelters.

Other protocols are therefore needed. The present severe weather emergency protocol is insufficient to ensure that people don’t die. The freezing temperatures put the lives of the most vulnerable at risk. With many people dying across Europe due to the cold, we as a town have an ethical responsibility to act with compassion and practically help those most in need. This is a situation of life and death.

There is a humanitarian obligation on local authorities to do everything possible to prevent deaths on the streets caused by winter weather. Our aim in writing this letter is to ensure: 1) that no one dies on the streets due to severe weather, and; 2) minors have access to accommodation at all times. We, the undersigned, have an interest in helping Southend’s rough sleeper population and would want to support initiatives to reduce homelessness.

Please advise, therefore, what measures you will take to develop more robust severe weather emergency protocols. Secondly, please confirm that you will provide emergency accommodation for minors if no other accommodation is reasonably available to them, as required by law.

Yours sincerely,

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St Luke's Voice Winter 2018/19 edition