Luke Pollard MP Member of Parliament for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport
This month’s ‘Lunch with Luke’ virtual roundtable session saw over twenty people across different sectors and organisations come together to discuss street homelessness in Plymouth.
There is no doubt that COVID-19 and its fallout has had a significant impact on the number of homeless people in Plymouth and on the ability of the council, charities and organisations to mitigate the damage and move people into housing.
Luke wanted to meet with those helping people pushed onto the streets to encourage collaboration, understand the issues, and to see what he could do for Plymouth.
Luke heard how one of the main issues within tackling homelessness currently is the rise in individuals with highly complex issues and needs, alongside an increase in their complexity. This means they don’t fit easily into any one service, either because they don’t want to, they are too vulnerable, or because their issues span multiple sectors. Many people need a much more holistic approach, one that requires input from health, social care and homelessness services.
The Plymouth Alliance are a group of seven core providers, working with additional services, to manage these sorts of collaborations. Luke heard how big a part the alliance has played throughout the pandemic; people expressed concern that had this not already been in place, the response to COVID-19 would have been significantly less successful. Luke is a strong supporter of the joined up approach championed by the Alliance and Plymouth City Council.
However, the lack of affordable housing in the city is a severely limiting factor to any response. There are already 10,000 households on the waiting list for social housing in Plymouth, with almost 3,000 signing up between April and October, a 35% increase on the same period last year. The number of households, including children, in statutory accommodation has also risen significantly. There is no question that Plymouth needs much more, and better quality, affordable housing.
Another issue raised was the lack of face-to-face contact between vulnerable people on the streets and professionals. This meant people had to adapt almost immediately from having anywhere between daily and weekly contact with staff and volunteers, to almost nothing. Tech services, especially after phone and laptop donations, have enabled most services to carry on, but are not a true substitute.
Better infrastructure for this community has been needed for a long time, but this has now never been as important. The compromises previously accepted by staff, such as meeting in tiny rooms where knees touch, and operating in out-of-date buildings with no taps, are no longer acceptable. These people need space and adequate facilities.
More widely, Luke heard about the importance of having a long-term strategy, running parallel to the emergency response, that helps people feel like meaningful contributors to society. To do this they need activities, training programmes and employment support. While this might not directly involve accommodation and getting people off the street, in the long-term it will move people off a reliance on these services, and into their own homes and lives.
“The staff on the frontline of homelessness have been doing a huge amount since the start of the pandemic. Not only have they worked their socks off but done so in innovative and creative ways often having to radically change how they work, what work they are doing, and where. Their collaboration and hard work is a credit to Plymouth.
What is obvious is that we need more comprehensive support from the Government. This includes immediate funding to get through the current crisis and a long-term package too. This will deliver real, long term solutions rather than putting a sticking plaster on the issue.
More widely the government must work out what it is doing to support people who are unable to work because of the virus. I welcome any extra help but what Ministers are dripping out isn’t enough. I am also concerned that the jobs crisis will mean more and more people losing their job and struggling to pay bills, increasing the chance of people losing their home and being made homeless.”
What is Lunch with Luke?
Before the pandemic Luke used to host a monthly round table meeting called ‘Politics and Pastries’ where he would discuss an issue with experts and frontline practitioners in Plymouth. The virus means he cannot host face to face meetings like this so he’s changed this monthly event into a virtual ‘Lunch with Luke’ – although it is not compulsory to bring your sandwiches to the meeting!
Since being elected Luke has hosted an annual discussion of homelessness and events on topics ranging from sexual health, cycling, theatre and the creative sector and mental health. He uses these events to inform his campaigning on behalf of Plymouth.