“There is no reason for anyone to be sleeping out on the streets in Blackburn and Darwen”, council bosses say.
Blackburn with Darwen Council has provided extra money for emergency accommodation and services for the borough’s most vulnerable this winter.
The local authority is working with The Salvation Army to support rough sleepers through the roll out of its Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) provision over the winter months as temperatures plummet.
Ordinarily the arrangements are triggered when the night time temperature is predicted to be zero degrees celsius or below for three consecutive nights, however Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council has funded the initiative each night, from now until March 2020.
It has urged the public not to give money to people begging but to donate to charities instead which make a difference.
Council experts are working with Child Action North West (CANW) case workers who provide outreach on the streets to work directly with people sleeping rough to get them support and into accommodation.
The teams are joining forces with The Salvation Army’s Lifehouse in Blackburn’s Bramwell House to roll out the programme which saw 400 safe nights provided for the rough sleepers of Blackburn and Darwen from December 2018 to March 2019.
Bramwell House, in Heaton Street, will open its doors for emergency accommodation in the cold weather from 9pm until 8am from now to March 2020 ensuring no rough sleeper is left out in the cold.
Last month, government figures revealed that 42 registered homeless people have died in the borough since 2013.
Last year alone, eight homeless died from accidents, overdoses and diseases – the second highest recorded rate in the country per head of population.
And across East Lancashire as a whole, 11 homeless people died in 2018 – with the Ribble Valley recording its first death in the borough since 2013.
Last year, Blackburn with Darwen’s annual count of rough sleepers found 15 people sleeping on the streets – the highest ever recorded in the borough.
Sayyed Osman, Blackburn with Darwen Council’s director of adults and prevention, said: “Our council and its partners including the Salvation Army and Thomas (Those on the Margins of a Society) care about everybody and really do everything in our collective powers to support people.
“The services provided require no conditions to be met other than to be respectful to other service users and the people who are trying to support them.
“Giving money to people begging on the streets and other items such as tents and sleeping bags enables people to continue a dangerous pattern of living on the streets and actually creates safeguarding risks. We need to work with these vulnerable people to break the cycle.
“It is really sad and in some cases soul destroying to know that some people just will not engage with support services, no matter what you do.
“We have heard of cases where people have been begging on the streets and getting donations in excess of £100 a day as well as claiming benefits as they have registered accommodation. We know that this money is being used in most circumstances to buy drugs and alcohol.
“The number of drug and alcohol-related deaths associated with those people either rough sleeping or living in a house in multiple occupation (HMO) is very worrying. The only way these vulnerable people can buy drugs is through begging. If they have taken drugs and subsequently collapsed outside in the midst of winter there is a high chance of death through prolonged exposure to severe cold.”
Cllr Mustafa Desai, executive member for adult services and prevention said: “The council has prioritised extra funding for the most vulnerable members of our society because nobody should be sleeping out rough.
“People need to know that the best thing they can do to help is donate to a homeless charity who work 365 days a year to help support people with the right services, at the right time.
“We have all the support and services in place for people to use and access but they can only do that when they are ready, they cannot be forced to do that.”
Colin Mottershead, service manager at The Salvation Army’s Bramwell House said: “It is critical for local organisations to work together to support those experiencing homelessness but more important than ever to support those with chaotic lives when the cold weather sets in.
“The cold weather exposes how tough life can be on the streets. Extreme temperatures can kill and for the vulnerable it can be a matter of life and death.
“Working in partnership with the council allows us to engage more with the marginalised members of society and let them see what we have to offer and what differences we can help them make to their lives.”
Bramwell House will provide emergency accommodation to rough sleepers and the council will provide the Lifehouse with security staff for the overnight hours.
CANW case navigators will be patrolling the streets to refer and advise rough sleepers of the initiative as well as other support available.
Salvation Army resident John Holt, 52, who had been previously sleeping rough before he was supported by outreach workers to find accommodation, said: “It’s great the support that you get, from the outreach work to the staff and the residents here. They are like your family and it’s that, that gets you through the hard times. They are there to support you through difficult times and I’m so grateful for this place.”
Another man who was last year living on the streets, has been helped by the services on offer. He has been through a drug rehabilitation programme and is now in full time work.
He said: “If I’d have carried on the cycle of sleeping on the streets begging all day for money and using that to buy the drugs and alcohol I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be here today doing what I’m doing now. I’m thankful for what everyone has done for me and didn’t give up on me. You can’t force people to make the changes, they have to be ready to do it for themselves.”