People will be sleeping on the streets of Leeds until we fix addictions and mental health, says top councillor

Coun Debra Coupar.
Coun Debra Coupar.

Leeds City Council has repeated that there is enough accommodation for all rough sleepers to take up – but people cannot be forced to use it.

Debra Coupar, the authority’s executive member for communities, said that people would remain on the streets until addiction, mental health and social care needs had to be tackled “comprehensively”.

Coun Coupar said: “We know there is enough accommodation for rough sleepers in Leeds, with tailored recovery packages to support people to rebuild meaningful lives away from the streets.

“Of course, we can’t force people to take up this support. And until we can comprehensively and collaboratively tackle issues such as addiction, mental health and social care needs, which often accompany rough sleeping and street begging, then people will sadly still be sleeping on the streets.

“This challenge for Leeds is a challenge throughout the country. Our new strategy provides Leeds with evidence and focus to meet the challenge and make more progress.”

Meanwhile, the council report on the draft Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy 2018-2022 outlines how Leeds spent £2m on supported accommodation for homeless people in 2017/18.

Its temporary accommodation placement levels for March 2018 - 32 people - were significantly less than in other ‘Core Cities’ such as Manchester and Birmingham, which had 1,483 and 2,058.

“It is likely that, were Leeds to have temporary accommodation numbers comparable to the highest Core City numbers, then costs would be well in excess of £20m per year.”

This has allowed it to invest in homeless prevention services, the report said.

Another noteworthy policy included in the strategy was the offer of discounted gym memberships for former rough sleepers to ensure they keep in good shape following their rehousing process.

The council will also pay for gym gear for people who take up the offer.

Preparations to sign off the strategy come after a camp of more than 20 tents in a Leeds city centre car park were taken down following council work to find housing for those who had pitched up.

According to organiser David Hedley, 22 people had moved into accommodation and were getting on-going support.

Speaking to the YEP when the camp was put up, Mr Hedley insisted it was humanitarian - not a protest.

Cold weather protocol, opening up more beds for rough sleepers in sub-zero temperatures, was activated on January 27 and deactivated on February 5.