‘Dire’ cuts to funding to support the homeless in Chichester and Bognor Regis would increase rough sleeping, the head of a charity has warned.
The Tory-led West Sussex County Council is considering ending housing support funding worth hundreds of thousands of pounds to a number of organisations from April 2019.
Since the authority argues the grants are discretionary, the cabinet member responsible is set to look at starting a process which could lead to a number of contracts with charities being terminated.
Stonepillow, which provides day hubs, accommodation and support for the homeless in both Chichester and Bognor Regis, would be one of those affected by the cuts.
Hilary Bartle, the charity’s chief executive officer, said the impact of the cuts would be ‘dire’, forcing a reduction in the opening times of its day hubs, less support for complex cases available at its hostels and fewer supported accommodation places.
She added: “The impact will be more visible rough sleepers on the streets with nowhere to go and no one to support them.”
She argued the proposed cuts went against Government policies to reduce rough sleeping and would end up costing public sector organisations, such as the police and health services, as well as the county council itself, more in the long-run.
Having the day hubs open every day is vital to help establish relationships and build trust so that rough sleepers are ready and willing to enter the hostels and engage with the charity.
Meanwhile the complex cases need a high level of support that the charity is able to provide to help with recovery and challenging behaviour.
She said: “The impact of the loss of grant and contract would be immense. We need to be able to have hubs open 365 days a year.
“We will not be able to support the people with the most complex and highest needs. The will be on the streets still and we will not be able to do what we have been doing for so long. It’s dire.”
The authority is also considering slashing Local Assistance Network funding, which Stonepillow helps distribute to those in crisis. This can include helping with heating or furniture, such as beds, fridges or cookers.
Mrs Bartle explained: “There are a whole range of things the LAN does. It’s a safety net for people who are financially vulnerable.”
She added: “I would urge West Sussex County Council to not think about the short term but think about the long term and the impact in their communities and also their duty and working in partnership with the district councils to actually ensure we reduce homelessness and end rough sleeping and this is not just a responsibility of the district councils it’s the responsibility for all local government in West Sussex.”
Bognor Housing Trust would also be affected. Manager Laura Kottaun said: “Ultimately we are going to see some type of reduction in the services we are providing up to closure but I hope it never comes to that. We get really good outcomes for people, getting them back into mainstream society and without this money there’s a huge risk of street homelessness increasing in Bognor Regis. These people they have no other options, they will be on the streets.”
She added: “I find it quite shocking West Sussex County Council can’t see the bigger picture because of the money we save the system.”
She continued: “If they do this they will be going against the Government announcement of ending all rough sleeping. It’s just crazy.”
The charity has a 98 per cent occupancy rate, showing the demand for its services.
Louise Goldsmith, leader of WSCC, explained the authority’s budget was under severe pressure due to reduced funding from Government. But she also stated no final decision had been made and a formal consultation would be held with those most affected.
She said: “The stark reality is we simply do not have the money to continue delivering the services we currently deliver in the same way and to the same level. We have come to the point that we need to make some difficult and necessary choices and this is the first reluctant step in this budget process.
“Locally there is really good work happening and we are committed to working in creative, innovative ways including collaborative working with partners to do as much as we can to mitigate the impact of these decisions and in doing so limit the effect on residents.
“The publication of the forward plan is the first step in the democratic process for our savings programme. No decision has been taken, these decisions are really important to making sure we meet the financial challenges we face. In order to make these decisions there is a full and thorough decision making process to go through. For many of these decisions that will include formal consultation with those most affected.
“Any changes we make we will do with the full understanding of the impact that has and the support we need to put in place to make sure we mitigate the impact for all of our communities.”
But Labour county councillor Michael Jones said: ”Trying to abolish the entire homelessness support funding the county council provides is not only incredibly callous and despicable of this Tory leadership, it is also immensely short-sighted.
“The county council will end up having to pay the consequences later when these vulnerable people deteriorate and then require services that they are statutorily required to provide, so most of the savings are likely to be lost quite quickly.
“Anyone who has seen first-hand the dedication of the staff at these organisations trying to help people in this terrible situation turn their lives around, and go forward with a roof over their heads, would not doubt for a second the benefit to the community they provide. The price it costs is relatively small as opposed to the costs that will undoubtedly emerge if they aren’t there, particularly to the health service and the police.
“In the meantime, I fear these cuts will trigger an epidemic of homelessness. This is likely to mean rough sleeping in the town centres, public places and open spaces, street begging and all the anti-social behaviour that can unfortunately accompany it, in a way that people in West Sussex will simply never have seen the likes of before.
“Where else will people seek help if these places aren’t there?”
James Walsh, leader of the Lib Dem group at County Hall, added: “These cuts fly in the face of the council’s avowed policies of protecting the vulnerable in our communities, and are merely cynical cash saving measures, and have no place in a civilised and caring society.
“They are part of a much wider programme of cuts to make up the shortfalls caused by the drastic reduction in the cash given by central government for local council services. It is time for the public and the council to stand up and tell central government that austerity has gone too far, and is severely eroding local Services to the elderly, young people, and vulnerable in our communities.”
Stonepillow’s annual fundraising event, The Big Sleep Out, takes place on Saturday 13th October in the grounds of Chichester Cathedral. The event kicks off at 2:00pm with a BBQ, as people arrive and start building their cardboard shelters before putting them to the test for the night.
Participants get sponsored to sleep out to raise vital funds for the charity and increase awareness of homelessness in the local area. The Big Sleep Out does not aim to replicate homelessness, but it does gets people thinking and it gives people a chance to experience some of the realities of rough sleeping.
Stonepillow hope to raise £30,000 this year and every single penny will go directly towards providing essential support to local homeless and vulnerable people.
It’s not too late to sign up and take part. A small registration fee of £15 per person includes refreshments, BBQ and entertainment. For further information or to register visit the charity’s website or phone 01243 537934.
For more information about Bognor Housing Trust visit its website.
Thousands have already rallied behind Crawley Open House, which could also lose funding, while the YMCA DownsLink Group, which provides supported housing services to homeless young people in Worthing, Crawley, Horsham and Burgess Hill, has warned that if the council ended all financial support it would lead to the closure of 206 homes for vulnerable young people.