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Rowan Williams spearheads Cambridge homeless campaign




Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is backing a campaign to rid Cambridge of its increasing homelessness problem and says Manchester’s approach to tackling the issue can be used as inspiration for the city to act.

The master of Magdalene College in Cambridge was the lead speaker at last Thursday’s summit on homelessness at St Paul’s Church on Hills Road.

The venue was packed with representatives from more than a dozen colleges, and 30 businesses, including Amazon and Microsoft, as well as officials from the police, public service organisations, charities, city and county councils, as well as those with experience of living rough on the streets of the city.

Dr Rowan Williams, Baron Williams of Oystermouth at the Cambridge Summit for Homelessness at St Paul's, Hills Road, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell.
Dr Rowan Williams, Baron Williams of Oystermouth at the Cambridge Summit for Homelessness at St Paul's, Hills Road, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell.

They were all brought together in the hope of formulating a collaborative plan to help tacklethe growing rough sleeping and homeless problem in the city.

Mr Williams said it was tragic that the homeless crisis across the country was spiralling while the government had its eyes elsewhere.

He said: “It goes back a long way to my own student days in Cambridge and what I called the unseen Cambridge of people in various kinds of distress in the 60s and 70s. However, it is a much bigger issue now and I’ve not been able to get it out of my mind.

“There is another human story to be told and the people who sleeping rough in doorways, people who are sofa-surfing and young women who are running away from home because of domestic abuse or difficulty all deserve exactly the same care and attention as any amount of Nobel Prize winners.

“The variety of organisations from local government to university and businesses represented at the summit is a hopeful sign. This is a community that wants to do something. It seems pretty generally agreed that welfare reforms in recent years, to put it mildly, have not helped and in many ways have pushed people closer to destitution and needs of various kinds. I find it tragic that at a time when these problems are still spiralling for us, that the government’s attention is somewhere else.

“We want to find co-ordinated approaches both to spreading reliable information about the nature of homelessness by the safest and most constructive responses and to create new opportunities for homeless people to have work and mentoring and somewhere to live. With the skills available at the summit, we have a fair chance of getting there.

Dr Rowan Williams, Baron Williams of Oystermouth (centre) with, right, Jon Canessa, the bishop's officer for homelessness, and Peter Smith, volunteer at Wintercomfort, at the Cambridge Summit for Homelessness. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dr Rowan Williams, Baron Williams of Oystermouth (centre) with, right, Jon Canessa, the bishop's officer for homelessness, and Peter Smith, volunteer at Wintercomfort, at the Cambridge Summit for Homelessness. Picture: Keith Heppell

“The Manchester example of what they are doing is a bit of an inspiration to us. I hope we can replicate it here. We need to move on beyond just hostels and have a graded approach. We have to have affordable housing for people, not just night shelters. We have to get people out of the cycle of dependency and get them to take charge of their own lives.

“This is a very diverse city in many respects. It has flourishing businesses, active and committed local government and, they tell me, it also has a university.

“One of the things they have done in Manchester is to create an app giving information about support services and systems and that is the kind of thing we are looking at here.

“It is part of the strategy for keeping information co-ordinated. People are generally aware that there is a problem.

“What they are not always aware of is how deep a problem it is or what lies behind what we see on the streets. Information alone will not solve it, we need opportunity. There is a challenge in what opportunities we can create in the city.

“There is no lack of will in the city to address the problem.

“We, who represent the institutions of the city, must not get away with imagining that we know the answers to the problems other human beings have, without listening to them.

“Too often we walk in saying we know what the problem is so we know what the answer is. We want to make this city a proud one in terms of the care it gives to the vulnerable.”

Business, council, charity and police representatives came together for the Cambridge Summit for Homelessness at St Paul's, Hills Road, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell.
Business, council, charity and police representatives came together for the Cambridge Summit for Homelessness at St Paul's, Hills Road, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell.

'No-one should sleep rough in Cambridge'

The summit’s aims were to help people get off the streets, to regain their lives and to ensure that no-one has to sleep rough in the city ever again.

Last November, the rough sleeping head count in the city was 26, but during 2017-18, local outreach teams found around 200 individuals sleeping rough at some point. In addition to those verified as rough sleeping, more than 700 people visited services available to rough sleepers, but the housing status of these people is not always clear.

During the last year, 1,000 single people, not necessarily all from Cambridge, faced some sort of housing crisis on the city’s streets, which services were unable to deal with immediately or, for some, unable to deal with even in the
long-term.

In 2015, the cost to the taxpayer of a single person being homeless in the UK for 12 months was estimated as £20,128.

Regular street counts are also carried out in Cambridge at other times in the year and the Cambridge mental health and street outreach team records all rough sleepers found during their early morning patrols every weekday.

A small group of county and city council staff is starting to build a better picture of rough sleeping in Cambridge using existing but so far unpublished data.

A number of cities around the UK have populated local versions of the Street Support app and website developed in Manchester.

This provides a straightforward means to find and access local services, offer help and develop new approaches – bringing together and articulating a community-wide response to homelessness.

The developers, Street Support Network, have offered to help do the same for Cambridge and work is under way to ‘pre-populate’ a Cambridge version but funds will be required in order to bring it to the city.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham sent a video message to Cambridge's summit on the homelessness at St Paul's, Hills Road, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham sent a video message to Cambridge's summit on the homelessness at St Paul's, Hills Road, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell.

Andy Burnham backs Cambridge to follow Manchester's lead

The mayor of greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, pictured, says Cambridge can follow Manchester’s example and make great strides towards eradicating rough sleeping in the city.

Under Burnham’s leadership, a scheme to provide a bed for every person who sleeps rough in Greater Manchester was launched last month.

The aim of ‘A Bed Every Night’ is to ensure shelter for the estimated 500 people in the region who regularly sleep rough and will run until March across all 10 boroughs.

Mr Burnham said it was stepping up efforts to tackle a ‘humanitarian crisis’.

He said: “We should pick people up as soon as they fall – if you let people have a number of nights out on the streets there is severe damage done not just to their physical health but their mental health too.”

Mr Burnham has made tackling rough sleeping one of his top priorities but said in January the number of people on the streets had actually gone up since he became mayor.

However, the number of beds available at night shelters had risen to 350 since last winter and he believes the summit in Cambridge demonstrates the city has the ability to follow their lead.

The mayor said: “Well done to Cambridge for getting all the relevant people together in one room to address this growing crisis. This will never be solved from Westminster, it can only be solved by people building new networks from the bottom-up, solutions that will be right for Cambridge just as the ones we are building for us in Manchester are right for us.

“You have got to set a big ambition. When I stood to be mayor of Greater Manchester, I made a big commitment, to end the need for rough sleeping by 2020. It is only by putting out a big vision that you then start to inspire people and get people to pull together.

“The next thing is to build a strong network and put collaboration first. This challenge of rough sleeping is bigger than any of us. There is no room for egos in this debate and no room for competition between organisations, we start to succeed when we all pull together in the same direction. That is what we have tried to do in Greater Manchester.

“This is one of the biggest challenges of our time. We are beginning to make real strides forward. It is has been hard to get to this point but it can be done.

“I have no doubt at all, knowing the people of Cambridge like I do, that they will be able to do it too. If we build this network among cities, where we are all trying to do the same thing, then we build a national movement for change and a country as wealthy as ours puts a roof over every head on every night of the week.

“I don’t believe in a society that says for some people to succeed, other people have to sleep in doorways. It doesn’t have to be like that. Cambridge needs to know that the people in Greater Manchester are willing them on. Come up with the solutions that are right for you but at the end of the day, agree to work together to make real change happen.”



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