Tackling homelessness in Sheffield – the challenges facing politicians

Topics making the headlines on the campaign have been many and varied, but the issue of homelessness has not been prominent. Cameron Dhaliwal looks at the issue in Sheffield.

 From Brexit to foreign policy issues, many of the issues highlighted in the run-up to the election seem far from home.

 However, the country faces a much closer crisis in our towns and cities.

In the latest report from homeless charity Shelter, at least 320,000 people are homeless in the UK.

Last year, 726 people died on the cold streets while rough sleeping, something over 5,000 homeless people do.

Sheffield City Council pulled their Housing First scheme in February 2019, a programme which was due to run until 2020 at a cost of £300,000.

The model stated that affordable housing should be found to keep the homeless from returning to that predicament. 

Council officer Emma Hickman said the service “faced a number of challenges” leading to the premature closure, pointing to lack of accommodation and refusal of their help.

The last Shelter report in 2018 found that there had been an increase of 600 homeless people in Yorkshire.

Sheffield council cabinet member Jim Steinke admitted that there had been more homelessness in Sheffield than the year before.

The Sheffield-based homeless charity Helps Us Help reported that some people begging would make almost £300-a-day, with nine out of ten spending it on alcohol or drugs.

Labour parliamentary candidate for Sheffield Central, Paul Blomfield, recognises that the homelessness problem has many underlying currents.

He said: “Rough sleeping is just the tip of the massive iceberg.

“There are lots of people, in Sheffield and beyond, that are not being recognized by officials.

“They float from house to house, sofa to sofa and rely on family and friends to have a roof.”

Paul said that the crisis stemmed from the government’s withdrawal of aid to issues such as mental health and addiction.

“There are likely enough rooms to accommodate, but untreated issues won’t allow it to happen.”

Daryl Bishop is the CEO of Ben’s Centre, a holistic self-referral service in the centre of Sheffield that aims to help people against alcoholism, substance abuse and homelessness.

The centre replicates a youth centre-like environment for people to sit and have a coffee or play pool. The kitchen provides nutritious meals and there is a garden blooming with various flowers.

The idea for Ben’s Centre was started by PC Ian Sherman back in 1996, when he realised the same people were committing substance-related crimes in an area.

He decided to tackle the issue a different way.

Daryl explained that the way Ben’s Centre treat people with these issues was different to most places.

He said: “Our ethos is about acceptance of people’s issues.”

If someone turns up drunk on an afternoon, they will let them in and aim to fix the foundation of an individual.

“They have to stick to a loose behavioural contract we have, but that’s all.

“If we said you can’t come in because you’re drunk, we would have no one coming through the doors.”

Rather than following the typical recovery process, Ben’s Centre aims to fix the person at a deeper level.

“We’re constantly working at housing but also constantly working at self-esteem.

“There’s usually a lot of shame involved, the self-value plummets after sitting in a doorway asking for money and getting into an oblivion after.”

A roof over their head, someone who listens, cooking classes and volunteering opportunities have helped people so they can start to heal any mental scars that have lingered for any duration of time.

Daryl understands that these things are usually long-festered issues that have not been fixed or even addressed before.

He said: “The majority of our clients have got issues that have run throughout most of their life.

“Their mental health has had issues for most of their lives- the years just compounded them.

“The Native Indian tribes used to follow a holistic approach. They would look out for each other and use relationship, connection and acceptance to help rebuild a person.”

“They understood that it could happen to any of them, they knew it didn’t discriminate. Addiction problems or mental health issues can happen to anyone of us, at any time.”


Life on the streets

Darren was sat huddled against the wall outside Sheffield station, as commuters blazed passed him on a freezing cold morning.

He was a former bricklayer who lost his job over a year ago but wouldn’t say why.

The 33-year-old was couch-surfing for a year before he was abandoned by family and friends, leaving him homeless in 2017.

Wrapped up in a sleeping bag and surrounded by pages of various newspapers, these were the only things keeping out the freezing temperatures.

Sitting in places with heavy foot-traffic usually is enough to make sure he gets a hot drink and loose change but getting housing from the council was more difficult.

“They don’t care if you’re not a smack-head or smashed on alcohol,” he said.

It’s been two years, and only yesterday did the council get in touch with him.

“I was being bounced around from place to place, but they don’t care.

“It took them two years, two, to get someone to let me know they should have a room for me.

“The politicians, they ignore the issue.

“They care more about throwing money to other countries than worrying about ourselves.

“Look at America, look at Trump, you don’t see them doing that, do you?”

When asked why he had not found any of the previous accommodation more permanent, the conversation ended.

On the paper next to him, the headline focused on the previous night’s ITV Debate with Johnson v Corbyn and the focus being Brexit.

It’s telling that none of the questions posed to them asked about the homelessness crisis we face.

Soon, looking in the other direction might not be enough to ignore this rapidly growing national tragedy.


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