'Rough sleeping is not a lifestyle choice': Gloucestershire council vows to tackle homelessness

Rough sleeping is not a lifestyle choice says a Gloucestershire council leader as the authority pledges to ensure homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurring. Civic chiefs in Tewkesbury Borough approved last week their vision for what the authority will focus on to improve the lives of residents.

Preventing and resolving homelessness and the threat of homelessness will be one of the key issues the council concentrates their efforts on from now until 2030. Being homeless can have a devastating, long term impact on individuals and their families, especially children.

And it can affect physical and mental wellbeing, leaving people isolated from their communities and support networks. Reducing homelessness will improve outcomes for households but also reduce the wider impact on society, the council says.

READ MORE: Gloucestershire 'must take flooding as seriously as Japan does with earthquakes' as extreme downpours increase

MORE NEWS: 'Disastrous' children's services failures in Gloucestershire will be flagged to civic chiefs to 'avoid them finding out in the press'

They will work to ensure rough sleeping in the borough is rare, brief and non-recurrent by reacting quickly to individuals in need while increasing the supply of appropriate affordable housing. The council will also prioritise to social rented homes and other tenures that meet our community’s needs.

Council leaders also say they will find alternative options to reduce the use of bed and breakfasts and hotels for temporary accommodation. And they have pledged to complete individual action plans for every property that has been empty for over two years, identifying the options available to the council to bring each property back into use.

But during the council debate on May 15, Councillor Paul McLain (C, Highnam with Haw Bridge) said the council needs to be realistic when tackling rough sleeping. He also said people have the “absolute right” to choose to be rough sleepers.

“Rough sleeping, we will never eradicate it,” he said. We are right to put all our powers into it but we will never eradicate it because we have to accept that for some, it is their absolute right, their choice to remain rough sleepers.

“No matter how many housing workers we put in there, unless we go down the deprivation of liberty legislation route, and medical professionals are really reluctant to do that, if someone is not prepared to go into some sort of supported accommodation or network then they do have the right to remain rough sleepers.

“However many concerns there may be about it. We must do the best we can.”

Council leader Richard Stanley speaking at Tewkesbury Borough Council's meeting on May 15
Council leader Richard Stanley speaking at Tewkesbury Borough Council's meeting on May 15 -Credit:Carmelo Garcia

Council leader Richard Stanley (LD, Cleeve West) said the council has been very clear it wants to ensure instances of rough sleeping are rare, brief and non-recurrent by reacting quickly. He said he would never accept that rough sleeping is a lifestyle choice and explained that there is usually an underlying condition which causes someone to take themselves away from society in that way.

“I don’t think we are saying we can 100 per cent eradicate it,” he said. “But I, personally, will never accept rough sleeping.

“If someone is rough sleeping, that is not a lifestyle choice. That may be a mental health issue. That may be a crisis point but it certainly rarely in my experience someone just fancying a bit of rough sleeping.

“I’m sure that’s not what you were saying at all but there will of course be very very rare instances. But usually underlying is some kind of mental health situation where somebody does take themselves away from society in that way.

"It’s on us as an authority to do all that we can.”

As part of the council plan, the authority will also ensure that appropriate interventions are carried out to ensure that properties are safe and free from significant health risks, for example damp and mould. And they will also explore possible development sites, working with communities and registered providers to develop a community-led approach to delivering affordable housing in rural areas.

They will also explore options for the council to begin to deliver affordable housing on their own brownfield land.