Catherine Smart on Tackling Homelessness in Cambridge

new_squatting_laws08:10 Friday 7th March 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[P]AUL STAINTON: A new accommodation service for the homeless officially opens today in Cambridge. It’s already got rave reviews from folks who stayed there. The Springs, based on Victoria Road, is an adult training foyer. It’s run by the social housing provider Riverside. Their area manager Kevin Scanlon explains how The Springs differs from a traditional hostel or shelter.
KEVIN SCANLON: To stay here you have to agree to enter into education training and employment. The idea behind that is certainly we want people to learn new skills, and be able to be employable and contribute to society. It gives them a batter opportunity to move on into their own home. And certainly in Cambridge it’s very difficult to find accommodation. And you’ve got a much better chance of finding a real home if you’re employed. ..

PAUL STAINTON: Let’s speak to Cambridge City councillor with responsibility for housing, Catherine Smart. Catherine, good morning.
CATHERINE SMART: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: This facility plugs a real gap, doesn’t it, for people who don’t need the sort of intensive support of a homeless shelter, but who aren’t yet ready to live on their own. It’s sort of helping them help themselves, isn’t it?

CATHERINE SMART: Yes. It’s very good. It’s taking what’s been done for a number of years for teenagers, particularly those coming out of care, and adapting it for older people who perhaps have been living an ordinary life in the community and something’s gone wrong. But very often .. a relationship breakdown, either with a partner or perhaps with a parent or step-parent. And they find themselves in real danger of just really going downhill rapidly. The Single Homeless service has identified that this is something that we ought to be doing, and we must do. And The Springs is just the thing to help them to get over the particular problem that they’ve hit, and not go downhill and end up as a rough sleeper. And I’m very much looking forward to going to the opening this morning, which I will be doing. I’ve seen some of the photos, and it looks great. But I haven’t seen the place itself, and so I’m much looking forward to seeing it.
PAUL STAINTON: Nyerrgh. The question is though, is it big enough? Because it’s already full, isn’t it? It’s only got 24 rooms.
CATHERINE SMART: Ah, you don’t want these sort of things too big. They become unmanageable. So I wouldn’t want this to be any bigger.
PAUL STAINTON: More of them though perhaps?
CATHERINE SMART: Another one is another question.
PAUL STAINTON: Say again. Sorry.
CATHERINE SMART: This one is only just starting. Let’s be sure it’s running right, and of course (it) will be running with Wintercomfort and the other hostels, and the other services as well.
PAUL STAINTON: Do you think we need more of these? Are there any plans?
CATHERINE SMART: There are no plans, and we don’t know, we won’t know. It may be you see that when something new starts, there’s a backlog to make up for. And then, after a time, things settle down. We will wait and see. But let’s just welcome something that is new and seems to be working very well. All the reports are very good. And hopefully it will help people get over the hump that they’ve hit and be able to get on with their lives. The Single Homelessness service that was referred to, which is working very much in partnership with this, that’s the sub-regional service which is identifying people who need this kind of help. About half of the people who have been accepted by the Single Homelessness service are actually in work anyway, but maybe perhaps very low or rather temporary sort of work, and so can perhaps be helped to improve their prospects. It isn’t only people who have no work.
PAUL STAINTON: Yeah. It’s great as well I think that Cambridge is leading the way on this. There’s always that danger though, isn’t there, that if you make things too good you become a magnet.
CATHERINE SMART: Ah. Well because it’s working in with the Single Homelessness service, that which is the sub-regional districts, it will only be for people who belong in this sub-region.
PAUL STAINTON: How do you work that out though?
CATHERINE SMART: Well they’ve got to be identified as people who are in this sub-region.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. So if I was living in Brighton and then I suddenly come to Cambridge and I’m living rough for three months, do I qualify?
PAUL STAINTON: How would you know?
CATHERINE SMART: When people have been living rough the outreach people identify who they are and so on and so forth.
PAUL STAINTON: Does it really happen? If I’ve been here for three months though living on the streets, don’t I qualify?
CATHERINE SMART: We have the reconnections policy. We’ve had the reconnections policy for some years, where we reconnect people with their home area, and if necessary buy them a ticket.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. OK. So you’d send them back to Brighton, rather than help them out here.
CATHERINE SMART: Well we’ve got enough as you said we;’ve got enough to deal with with our own people. We do not wish things to be a magnet, but what we do want is to deal with .. to help the people who are here better. And that’s what this is about. This is helping the people who have a problem, but not enormous needs, so they don’t for the lack of help develop survival techniques which actually give them more problems.
PAUL STAINTON: Catherine, we’ve got to leave it there.