In August 2017, an ITV report stated that the city of Exeter had the second highest number of rough sleepers outside of London, with 600 people facing homelessness in Exeter per year. It has become a huge problem that is being frequently commented on by those that live here, particularly due to how small a city Exeter is. It was recorded to have a population of 129,800 in October 2017, being rather small to have such a big proportion of homeless people, being just under 0.5 per cent of the population. It is increasingly noticeable at this time of year due to the temperatures dropping, and the town centre having become busier with Christmas shoppers, and now the January sales.
The ITV report showed that there has been a huge rise in the number of people sleeping rough in Exeter, suggesting that the problem is not at all on its way to being solved, despite the council putting measures in place to change this. These efforts have included Exeter City Council spending almost £5,000 buying homeless people one-way tickets out of the city, in an attempt to reunite them with families they may have in different parts of the country. It has also been argued that this was merely an attempt to remove them from the county amidst fears that homelessness in Devon would reach record highs. This is an action that would not necessarily be the most beneficial action for the homeless people themselves.
However, it is not just Devon that is having these problems – rough sleeping nationally has greatly risen as well, with the numbers sleeping homeless rising from 2,181 in 2011 to 4,134 in 2016.
A new law is coming into effect in April 2018, named The Homelessness Reduction Act, which will offer help earlier to those in desperate need, however it will require those that are facing the possibility of homelessness to take an active part in helping to resolve their issue by maintaining their current accommodation, or trying to and find somewhere new to live. This will in theory help to rehouse those that are homeless, offering them financial support whilst helping them get work so they can become self-sufficient.
Councillor Emma Morse, Exeter City Council’s Lead Councillor for People, has said of the situation in Exeter that “as a local authority we are 100 per cent committed to tackling homelessness. The common perception of homelessness is rough sleeping, as this is the most visible form of homelessness, but it accounts for only 5 per cent of those who don’t have a real home. Street dependent people are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to homelessness. Many people think being homeless will never happen to them, but the reality is it can and it often does.”
It can however be difficult for those homeless or facing the possibility of homelessness to take an active role in helping themselves. St Petrock’s charity stated that “sometimes in order to mask their feelings of depression and isolation, people who are homeless will turn to alcohol and drugs, but they are not unique in this, they are simply more visible by definition of not having a home”. This can then make it harder for them to be able to get back on their feet again.
There are already multiple charities in Exeter doing lots of work to assist the homeless, one of the main ones being St Petrock’s, a charity that has been helping homeless people in Exeter for over 22 years, with 304 individuals using their services last year, and 160 individuals being supported by this charity into accommodation. Gill from this charity stated “it’s an important aspect to our work that we try to breakdown negative stereotypes of people who are homeless as they are not a homogeneous group as often portrayed in media channels. They are individuals just like the rest of us – all with their own personal story – who have often fallen into homelessness, often, as a result of a series of unfortunate events, such as death of a loved one, job loss and relationship breakdown over which they have no control.”
However, St Petrock’s have noticed a 38 per cen increase in the number of people arriving at their centre; nine years ago, they would see around 35 people a day, however now they are likely to see anything from 50-60 individuals in a morning session, with it getting as high as 70 last year. There are arguably several reasons as to why this increase has occurred, with one notable one being a reduction in tenancy support; over the last seven years Devon County Council has faced a reduction of £4,000,000 in funding, money that was vital to enable people sustain their tenancies. Also, due to cuts, focus has shifted from early intervention services that were in place to stop people becoming homeless, to crisis services only there in emergencies. Therefore homeless sleepers often have to be in serious trouble to receive any help, and often this can come too late, with many having developed alcoholism, drug addiction, or a mental health problem by the time they get any support.
Exeter Community Initiatives are also a valuable charity that students get involved in, working closely alongside St Petrock’s, training volunteer mentors and matching them with clients to offer support to those struggling with budgeting, running a home and finding work. They also support vulnerable families, and help develop peoples’ life skills to improve their future prospects. The charity Just Love Exeter are also doing excellent work within the community that you can get involved with such as working with the homeless on a Saturday morning. Local coordinator Anna said: “The main aim is to treat them as a person not a problem, to just spend time chatting to them, learning a bit of their story, about who they are.”
She also reminds us that “homeless tourism exists – the homeless move to places where they know they will be looked after well. Exeter is one of those places, which is an encouragement. However, it is also still a big problem. Therefore, as well as Saturday mornings we want to start engaging with Exeter Council about this.”
Consequently, it is important to continue to support the charities already in place helping the homeless, but also question if there is more we can do on an individual basis, whether that is writing to local MPs, buying a Big Issue or helping out at a homeless shelter – as long as we do something to combat Exeter’s, and hopefully eventually the rest of England’s homeless crisis.
Who to contact if you or someone you know needs help:
– Visit the Civic Centre, Paris Street, Exeter and ask to speak to a member of the housing options team
– Visit St Petrocks or another charity for help with getting back on your feet
– Go along to soup kitchens to receive food
– Get in touch with hostels for temporary shelter
How to help the homeless:
– Volunteer at St Petrocks drop in mornings for the homeless
– Get involved with ESV’s homeless action project
– Volunteer with Just Love Exeter’s Saturday mornings for the homeless
– Help at St David’s Soup Kitchen on Thursday evenings