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Exeter’s homelessness charities in fresh bid to halt £1.5M budget cut, after more than 900 objections

Representatives of charities supporting homeless people in Exeter will address scrutiny councillors next week, hoping to persuade Devon County Council to drop plans to axe its £1.5m homelessness prevention budget.

Over 900 individual objections to the plans have been received, following a consultation that ended in April and after a high profile and widespread campaign led by Exeter Homelessness Forum, urging people to respond to the plans.

Peter Stephenson, director of St Petrock’s, and Chair of Exeter Homelessness Forum, Si Johns, joint CEO at YMCA Exeter and Richard Jones from the city’s Colab, will speak to the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee, on Wednesday 13 June, at 10.30am.

Wednesday’s  agenda papers reveal that out of six consultations, half have been halted, however, the proposal to remove the homelessness prevention budget remains on the table.

Peter Stephenson, Director of St Petrock’s said: “We’re extremely disappointed to see that the proposal to remove the homelessness budget has been retained despite the fact that many very vulnerably people will be forced to sleep rough, lives put at risk, and the very large number of objections from the public to the loss of this funding.

“What councillors seem to have forgotten is that this is about support for people who have been failed by society throughout their lives and have significant need of adult social care.

They are about to be failed yet again, not by accident or misfortune, but by a deliberate decision by local elected councillors.”

Twelve organisations who support rough sleepers and those who are vulnerably housed, signed an open letter to all Devon MPs, in April, urging them to act against the plans.

Exeter’s MP, Ben Bradshaw and Tiverton and Honiton MP, Richard Foord, have both opposed the plans.

In February, St Petrock’s warned the withdrawal of funding would cause a homelessness crisis in the city on a scale not seen before.

Axing the homelessness prevention budget could see the numbers of people in this perilous position double yet again, causing widespread suffering and putting huge pressure on existing resources.

A significant increase in homelessness and rough sleeping

According to Devon County Council’s own impact assessment this could trigger the closure of ‘five hostel provisions’ across the county, creating an inevitable and significant increase in homelessness and rough sleeping.  This is in addition to a very large number of people who are homeless but hidden from view – for example sofa surfing or in emergency accommodation – many more of whom are likely to end up rough sleeping without these services.

Equally worrying is that, once lost, this physical infrastructure is unlikely to return given the huge insecurity around funding mechanisms. Similarly, removal of this funding will bring about the loss of vital skilled and professional support which enables people with complex needs to establish and maintain accommodation after a period of homelessness.  Again, replacing these skills in the future will be extremely hard.

This money also underpins the delivery of valuable responsive and preventative services which prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.

St Petrock’s, part of Exeter Homelessness Forum, does not benefit from the funding, however, it provides services for rough sleepers and those who are vulnerably housed.

Miserable conditions for those with nothing

Mr Stephenson continued: “Sadly, our beautiful city already has one of the highest levels of rough sleeping in the country for its size following the surge in homelessness over the past year, and is as high as I can remember in my 20 years working here. 15 years or so ago we had a comprehensive system of homelessness support and accommodation projects, and there were only a handful of rough sleepers in Exeter, but this has gradually been dismantled as vital support services have been repeatedly cut, leading to essential accommodation and support projects closing.

“Our outreach team and centre staff see the results of this on our streets every single day. Yesterday I joined our team as I do regularly, walking the streets of the city, and again was struck by the miserable conditions those with nothing are forced to live in – no shelter, no toilets, no washing facilities, no laundry, nowhere to keep treasured possessions.

“With the county council now planning to axe the remainder of homeless support, even the hope that things may one day get better will be taken away. Loss of hope creates desperation, and I am deeply, deeply worried about what the results of this might be, the probable loss of life, and also the impact on the wider community. Of course, St Petrock’s will be here for people in their moment of need, but I fear we may be overwhelmed by the increase in numbers.

“I know a number of very good county councillors. So, I just hope that, now that the impact of these proposals has been clearly spelt out for them, and the consultation process has made clear that the people of Devon are deeply opposed to these cuts, that they will have the wisdom and humility to think again. Changing your mind when you realise you are about to make a huge mistake is not a sign of weakness, but of strength and courage.”

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St Petrock’s relies on donations from members of the public for the vast majority of its funding. Donations can be made via its website