Rough sleeping on rise in Lancaster as council asks residents to be vigilant this winter

A closed down shop doorway in Cheapside
A closed down shop doorway in Cheapside

Homelessness is on the rise in Lancaster.

Up to 18 people are currently sleeping rough in shop doorways in the city centre, and in the covered entrances to Lancaster Town Hall and the City Museum.

Blankets left in the doorway of Clintons Cards, Lancaster

Blankets left in the doorway of Clintons Cards, Lancaster

Lancaster City Council recorded 13 last month.

As winter kicks in, the evidence of homelessness in Lancaster becomes more stark.

Blankets, sleeping bags and pillows are a common sight in shop doorways in Penny Street and Market Street, while a pile of blankets is left all day next to the doors of the city museum in Market Square.

As night approaches, people bed down behind the tall pillars of Lancaster Town Hall.

Blankets left outside the city museum, Lancaster

Blankets left outside the city museum, Lancaster

City centre residents, shoppers and business owners are rallying round to try to help - with offers of money, food, hot drinks and warm clothing - but the issues are complicated and a good deed can sometimes backfire.

Sharron Mitchell, owner of Studio 4 Hair Salon in Lancaster, decided to offer shelter to one couple who said they had been sleeping rough in the city centre for two weeks due to being sanctioned on Universal Credit.

Following a conversation she allowed them to sleep in her salon in Slip Inn Lane.

But she arrived for work on Tuesday morning to find them gone, along with seven sets of hair straightners worth more than £1,000.

“We were hoping that they would see it as a good thing,” she said.

“I’m a struggling small business owner myself. I took that chance, even against my gut instincts, but I was praying that they’d prove me wrong.

“They’ve completely breached my trust.”

Sharron says she has reported the incident to Lancaster Police.

Coun Caroline Jackson, Lancaster City Council’s cabinet member for housing, said anti-social behaviour is a concern for the city council and for businesses in the city centre.

“We want the people of Lancaster to feel as safe as possible,” she said.

“We know those 12-13 people who have been sleeping rough for a while in Lancaster, and it’s not them causing the problems.”

One woman expressing concern about homelessness and rough sleeping in Lancaster city centre said: “It’s just bonkers.

“We have all these empty buildings and there’s people sleeping outside.”

Coun Jackson said the council wasn’t closed to new ideas, and is “trying to extend provision and be as flexible as possible”.

Lancaster City Council is asking members of the public to remain vigilant this winter and help its homelessness team locate those in need of support.

It will be holding a multi-agency Homelessness Forum Meeting next week, and its annual homeless count takes place on November 14.

Sharon Parkinson, Principal Housing Options Manager at Lancaster City Council, said the council is currently re-homing 40 people a month who are faced with homelessness.

She said that the council regularly works with probation, prisons and hospitals, and provides access to supported accommodation within the district.

Oak Tree House provides accommodation for people with a history of rough sleeping.

They are provided with key workers who focus on the root issues, substance issues and mental and physical health.

“Ultimately the goal is to move them into settled accommodation,” Sharon said.

The council also provides services for 16-21 year olds, and youth services that go up to the age of 24.

Lancaster City Council operates a “No second night out” policy, and if someone doesn’t have a local connection, they are offered a reconnection service to their home area.

Sharon added: “We go out and see people, usually in the early mornings, twice a week, asking people to come in and see us so we can provide wraparound support to get people off the streets as soon as possible.

“Sometimes we approach people who don’t want to take up the offer and tell us to go away, but even if we’re told ‘no’ we’ll still offer that again.

“We have 14 recovery beds at Walter Lyon House in Lancaster - which is run by Acorn Calico - and this is an abstinence based service.

!People usually spend six months there and it’s always full. We get 48 hours notice that a bed is coming up.”

Lancaster District Homeless Action Service said that 83 individuals attended the centre at Edward Street in September, a 7.5 per cent increase on the same month last year.

It currently has 31 individuals registered as homeless.

Phil Moore, LDHAS Centre Manager, said: “Thankfully, there were no recorded deaths of street homeless people using our services in 2018 and in 2019 to date.”

Lancaster City Council has a statutory duty to find suitable accommodation for anyone who is homeless or threatened with homelessness.

In April 2018 the Homelessness Reduction Act came into force in England.

The legislation states that from October 2018 specified public authorities are required to notify the local authority of service users they consider may be currently homeless or threatened with homelessness within 56 days.

But Coun Jackson said that cuts to public services meant there was less of a safety net for people who are struggling.

She said: “There is less mental health service provision and fewer people working to support families, so that’s way more people with complex needs who find themselves on the street.

Universal Credit is also playing a part.

“The regime that the Department for Work and Pensions works to creates vulnerabilities particularly over housing, which local councils are then having to pick up and deal with.

“It’s completely un-joined up thinking.

“It’s reducing the amount that central government has to pay, but at the same time increasing the workload for local councils and organisations, at a time when local council budgets are being cut too. This is a big shift of burden to local government.”

Visit www.lancaster.gov.uk/housing/homeless-or-at-risk for more information.

Lancaster City Council is asking members of the public to remain vigilant this winter and help its homelessness team locate those in need of its support so it can bring them in from the cold and connect them to the relevant specialist services to help get them back on track and hopefully off the street for good.

Anyone who sees someone sleeping rough can contact StreetLink by telephoning the 24/7 StreetLink phone line 0300 500 0914 or report your concerns using the StreetLink website www.streetlink.org.uk.

The Street Link scheme is a service that enables the public to alert local authorities in England about rough sleepers in their area.

The Homelessness Team can be contacted between 9am – 5pm (Monday to Friday) on 01524 582257 and from 5pm – 9am on 01524 67099 (Monday to Friday, Weekends and Bank Holidays). The Lancaster District Homeless Action Service AGM is to be held on Monday November 18 at 5.30pm at LDHAS, Edward Street. All are welcome to attend. The annual Christmas Shelter at St Thomas’ Church will be open from the evening of December 24 until the morning of December 29.