I’ve been wrestling with the problem of street homelessness since being re-elected. This is now much worse than it was in 2010. I have calculated with the help of interested agencies that Stroud town currently has about 14 people sleeping rough. They are not always on the street, as people come and go, but the number excludes those who are ‘sofa surfing’; ie those who are able to stay for a short period at the homes of friends or relatives.
This is a serious and growing problem that shames us as a developed country. I have a long relationship with the Marah Trust and am currently working closely with Marah and StreetLink, which has responsibility for overseeing those on the street and providing support to find accommodation and the other help they need.
I am grateful that the Baptist Church opened its hall during the worst of the winter nights, and also that the Salvation Army is now looking into providing a permanent night shelter.
Certainly the past winter has been dreadful, with temperatures dropping below freezing followed by a period of sustained rainfall. No one should be out in that weather and it behoves those of us who are able to work to find solutions, whether it’s short-term assistance such as provision of a shelter, or the means to assist people to get off the street.
Accommodation is not the only issue. Many people who sleep rough have acute mental-health problems as well as social issues including addiction, relationship breakdown and brushes with the criminal-justice system.
As a community we need to face up to this problem and provide more support, although sadly the statutory sector is under such intense pressure that volunteers are having to take on increased responsibility. This situation cannot carry on indefinitely. Mental health must be given much higher priority. The lack of mental-health provision is worrying across the board, but the failings we are seeing at the very acute end of the spectrum, and the consequences of these failings, are not something that we must ever accept.
MP for the Stroud Constituency