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Fears of winter 'homelessness crisis' looming in Cambridge after five deaths in a year


By Josh Thomas, Local Democracy Reporter


Homelessness is a significant problem in Cambridge
Homelessness is a significant problem in Cambridge

Emergency arrangements mean city council will provide free emergency accommodation in periods of very cold weather

Councillor Rod Cantrill. Picture: Keith Heppell
Councillor Rod Cantrill. Picture: Keith Heppell

Five homeless people have died in Cambridge over the last year and, with winter looming, a councillor has suggested the city faces a winter “homelessness crisis”.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Rod Cantrill, who represents Newnham, was addressing the full city council yesterday (October 18)

Cllr Cantrill said: “This is five too many. This shows that the homelessness crisis has not gone away, even as winter approaches.

“No one in this city should be sleeping on the streets.”

Councillor Richard Johnson. Picture: Keith Heppell
Councillor Richard Johnson. Picture: Keith Heppell

Cllr Cantrill called on the council to make a commitment to offer accommodation to rough sleepers every night during the winter period not just when the severe weather emergency provision is activated.

Cllr Richard Johnson, executive councillor for housing at Cambridge City Council said the council’s severe weather emergency provision (SWEP) protocols were currently “sufficient” to deal with the existing demand.

The protocol says the council will provide anyone who would otherwise have to sleep outdoors with free emergency accommodation in periods of very cold weather.

Cllr Johnson said that, last year, there was “only one night” where beds reached capacity, and noted there were even some empty beds during some of the coldest nights in the winter.

He said there were many complicated reasons for people sleeping rough, and that council officers were working to address some of the issues that lead to rough sleeping in the first place.

Cllr Johnson said he could not commit to providing additional capacity at this point, but he was confident the SWEP protocol would help those most in need of help.

Most authorities, including Cambridge, set the basic trigger for opening emergency provision as being any period when the Met Office forecasts a temperature low of zero or under for three successive days.

However, Cambridge City Council goes beyond this minimum measure of provision, making accommodation available in periods of prolonged heavy rain or high winds and during long periods of cold and damp weather.

A spokesman for the city council said: “As winter progresses we also apply a common-sense approach, appreciating that long-term exposure to even mild winter weather will take a physical toll and so we will open provision at intervals to give a few days respite.

“Whatever the weather, we always endeavour to provide shelter over the Christmas period, sufficient staff and volunteers permitting.”

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