Louise Boyle, Team Leader (Solace), Martin Stacy, Lead Commissioner - Housing Services, Environmental and Regulatory Services (CBC) and Paul Tuckey (CBH)
Objective: consider performance of service and any benchmarking, also how Covid has impacted what they do (also understand the process and timeframes from initial engagement with a rough sleeper, through to that individual being rehoused)
Louise Boyle, the SOLACE Team Leader, introduced the briefing paper along with Martin Stacy (CBC Lead Commissioner - Housing Services, Environmental and Regulatory Services) and Paul Tuckey (CBH Housing Options Manager), and highlighted its key aspects.
SOLACE was operational in Gloucester for a number of years before expanding to Cheltenham in 2018. Between February 2018 and April 2021, the Cheltenham team dealt with 166 cases relating to high and medium level anti-social behaviour such as aggressive begging, neighbourhood disputes and criminality.
SOLACE’s Key Performance Indicators included reducing repeat victims of anti-social behaviour. Since February 2018, there had been 22 repeat victims, an average of 7.3 a year or 0.6 per month. Another KPI included providing a holistic approach and build public confidence and across the same period of time, 252 cases had been closed with no need for legal action across Cheltenham and Gloucester.
During the Covid crisis, SOLACE had been able to operate largely how it did before thanks to its joint working with the police and councils, with the key difference being the form of communication, with partners, particularly from the police and courts, having provided a great deal of support. SOLACE also had a place on the Covid-19 Emergency Accommodation Protocol, working with partners to provide Covid-safe emergency accommodation.
In terms of the process for housing rough sleepers, SOLACE normally got involved when there was an aspect of anti-social behaviour. They used an engage, support, enforce model, with enforcement as the last resort. Many cases were complex, with factors including substance abuse, mental health and PTSD, and it was important to take time to engage people properly. If enforcement was needed, this was done with the help of One Legal, though there needed to be alarm, harassment or distress being caused in order to legally justify enforcement.
Martin Stacy (CBC Lead Commissioner - Housing Services, Environmental and Regulatory Services) stressed that all roads lead to housing options, with the key being to provide rough sleepers with a pathway to accommodation. The real challenges were in working with those with complex needs, and figuring out how best to engage, accommodate and support them. In Cheltenham they had established six housing-led properties, providing accommodation that was ‘wrapped around’ with constant support for the individuals living there. They had also commissioned a support officer who spent time building trust with these individuals and getting them on the pathway to independent living.
He acknowledged that the number of rough sleepers had increased significantly over the last 5 years or so, and that short-term funding streams posed an issue. The latest new funding award would last for nine months, from July to the end of March. Though, there were advantages to these short-term funding streams, importantly being able to reflect, review and reshape their approach on a regular basis.
Paul Tuckey (CBH Housing Options Manager) outlined his key role in assessing applicants while liaising with partners to offer support, interventions, mental health services and domestic abuse services. It was important to work together to find long-term solutions and engage people, supported by proper aftercare services. An Interventions Officer was now working in the team, working closely with those impacted by rough sleeping and he reiterated the importance of robust wraparound support being provided.
A member praised the very thorough report and the important work that SOLACE undertook. She asked how the street link worked, and whether the officers found it to be satisfactory. Louise Boyle responded that the street link was generally very proactive and effective. She acknowledged that responses could be slower when rough sleepers move during the night and are more difficult to find, but also that this was difficult to avoid. Overall, she was happy with the process and its outcomes.
The same member also asked about the duty to refer process. Paul Tuckey responded that the duty to refer came in under the 2018 Homelessness Reduction Act and obliged statutory authorities to give local authorities prior notification when they became aware of someone who was either homeless or threatened with homelessness in their area. Anyone could submit a referral to the authority, either through the website, via email or over the phone, though there may be some glitches in what was still a relatively new system.
Another member asked whether the clients they dealt with were primarily the subjects or perpetrators of antisocial behaviour. Louise Boyle responded that they could be either or a mixture, and that SOLACE would deal with both aspects on a case-by-case basis.
The same member also noted that SOLACE was a relatively small organisation with a low budget. The ONS suggested that 35% of crime in Gloucestershire was related to anti-social behaviour and queried where SOLACE fit into the response to this? Louise Boyle responded that they worked on high and medium level antisocial behaviour, with lower-level ASB referred to either the council’s neighbourhood team, other support organisations, or to Restorative Gloucestershire who offer restorative justice and mediation. The restorative approach can help resolve neighbourhood disputes before they bubbled over into something more serious.
A member asked for more details on the KPIs. Louise Boyle responded that the KPIs were reported to the quarterly governance board, which involved representatives of CBC, GCC and the police and that she was happy to report back with more info on KPIs in the future.
The Chair asked what the council could realistically do to help SOLACE work more effectively. Louise Boyle responded that they were fortunate to have ongoing support from CBC, particularly from the neighbourhood team and Environmental Health. Martin Stacy suggested that the most significant help would come from simply delivering more homes and widening the range of options in the housing stock. CBH recently agreed to deliver six new homes for the most complex rough sleeping cases, but he noted that there could never be too many. It was important that the housing options team within CBH continues to improve understanding throughout the organisation, and that we keep looking at how processes and partnerships could be improved.
The Chair thanked representatives for their contributions and suggested that they return in twelve months with an update.
No decision was required.