by Stephen Bell OBE, Chief Executive
You might think the government’s latest headline figures for rough sleeping should be giving me a sleepless night – up 40% in the North East in a year! But once put into context, they are actually a success story for us.
We are talking about very small numbers – 35 people recorded rough sleeping in the North East. But are the figures underestimating the problem? We believe not.
We’re confident they are accurate due to our extensive outreach services operating around the region. Our amazing outreach workers go out early morning, rain or shine, every single day of the year. They actively look for people who are sleeping rough. They then engage with them, help them get off the streets into accommodation and start addressing the issues that caused them to become homeless in the first place.
We cover most of the North East with our outreach services operating in North and South Tyneside, Durham, Middlesbrough and Newcastle, and we provide homeless services in Northumberland and Gateshead. We recently started the outreach service in County Durham which explains why the figure has jumped (its gone up 10 people) as we have discovered and crucially are now helping those who are homeless.
The North East has consistently had the lowest figures of all 9 regions in England since rough sleeping started being recorded 5 years ago. This is remarkable considering the cuts to public services and funding that have happened over the past few years. We believe this is down to our crucial work in finding, helping and supporting people off the streets and back into mainstream society.
Image taken from Homeless Link
I often get asked “But what about all the homeless people we can see in Newcastle sitting in doorways?” Many local people and visitors to Newcastle may think we have a growing homeless problem due to the numbers of people sitting begging on the streets.
We know this isn’t true from our outreach work where we actively go out early morning to look for homeless people to help. Many of the people you see begging actually have accommodation and are well known to us. The figures show 6 people homeless last year across the whole of Newcastle. What Newcastle has is a begging problem, and we encourage people who want to help to give to charities instead helping those really in need, rather than encouraging this growing issue.