Blog: Joe Anderson

Liverpool’s mayor on why he believes the city has been successful in reducing rough sleeping

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In late 2017, the beast from the east roared in and Liverpool was gripped by a cold wave and covered in a blanket of snow and ice.

Schools closed, public transport ground to a halt and even parts of the River Mersey froze under the sub-zero Siberian bombardment.

It was clear to me that in the midst of one of the coldest, harshest winters on record that it was no time to be on the streets.

So I took a decision to open an all-year-round night shelter in the centre of the city, open to anyone regardless of their background or circumstances.

It was named Labre House, after the patron saint of homelessness, and also offered a range of services to offer people the support they need to start to turn their lives around.

I was warned that the council was breaking government rules by providing emergency shelter for anyone in need regardless of their immigration status. But I felt strongly that it would be morally wrong for us to discriminate in this way.

Just over a year on, Labre House caters for an average of 70 people every night, and more than 50 people have been helped into permanent settled accommodation as a direct result. Many more have gone into temporary accommodation and accessed other help and support to move them away from the streets for good.

The measure of its success can be seen in the latest rough sleeper figures which, whilst just a snapshot taken on one night last November, show that the number of people on the streets has fallen by just over half since 2017, down from 33 to 15. The latest figure for January actually shows a further fall, down to eight.

I appreciate that these figures are a snapshot and the number of people sleeping rough can fluctuate from night to night and at different times of the year, and this does not necessarily represent the full picture.

Rough sleeping is everyone’s issue and not something the city council can tackle in isolation

But I believe it shows a direction of travel that is due to our significant investment in new facilities, outreach teams and services for drug and alcohol misuse.

However, the bottom line is that the figures are no cause for complacency. Anyone walking through the streets of the city centre will realise that there is still more work to do.

Rough sleeping is everyone’s issue and not something the city council can tackle in isolation. A combination of welfare reform, Universal Credit and austerity have left people living hand to mouth and relying on foodbanks and our Hardship Fund, Discretionary Housing Payments and Citizen Support Scheme just to get by. That is why we have adopted a partnership approach that has seen some great work from a host of organisations, volunteer groups and residents of the city.

Our plan is to continue to work to do all we can to support rough sleepers in Liverpool off the streets and help them to turn their lives around.

Incidentally, so far no one from Whitehall has come knocking on my door telling me to stop Labre House taking in people with no recourse to public funds. But rest assured that, if they did, I’d tell them in no uncertain terms that I’d see them in court.

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