The next few days are likely to be particularly tough for rough sleepers in Dartford. Sadly, the response of Conservative run Dartford Borough Council this winter has not been good enough.
As temperatures dive to below zero, Dartford becomes an extremely hostile environment for the rough sleepers as they attempt to keep warm. Two recent tragic deaths of rough sleepers in Chatham serves as a stark reminder of how dangerous it can be in cold temperatures. As we enter 2017, It is totally unacceptable to have people dying on our streets due to the cold.
It’s a time when Local Councils can play a vital role in providing the support homeless people need to stay off the streets and keep safe. Sadly, the response of Conservative run Dartford Borough Council this winter has not been good enough.
Dartford Borough Council employ a Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP). This is formally triggered when the forecast is for sub - zero temperatures to occur on three consecutive nights and enables rough sleepers to be provided with emergency accommodation. The Met Office forecast for night time temperatures on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday next week are -2'c and 1'c and 1'c. However, wind-chill means that feels like temperatures are actually -4, -2 and -1'c. Public Health England have also issued a level 3 cold weather alert.
The next few days are likely to be particularly tough for rough sleepers in Dartford. That’s why, in light of the severe weather warning and recent tragic events in Medway, Dartford Labour Councillors have asked the Council to consider, triggering SWEP with immediate effect. If SWEP is not triggered this weekend, we believe that it needs to be in place on Monday due to the ‘feels like’ temperatures forecast for next week.
In response to our request, Dartford Council has told us that they do not envisage triggering the emergency protocol over the coming three to four days.
It cannot be right that a policy– which in its current form provides no more than the bare minimum of support – does not meet the needs of the homeless population in Dartford in periods of cold weather. The need is real and urgent. A recent report by Shelter confirmed that Dartford now has the highest number of homeless people relative to population in Kent. We need to see the right response.
That’s why Dartford Labour are calling on the Conservative Council to:
· Provide support to more people, more often. We would like to see a change to the current SWEP to also take into account instances of high winds, severe snow, heavy rain and when the ‘feels like’ temperature is below zero. The purpose of this policy is to prevent death and protect the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable people. The current policy in Dartford should be more flexible to ensure it can meet this aim.
· Provide support quickly. We want to see a firm commitment that the Emergency Protocol is always activated on the first night of cold temperatures occurring. Emergency accommodation should be provided to vulnerable people as soon as possible
· Provide more emergency accommodation local to Dartford. Currently, the emergency accommodation offered is likely to be multi-occupancy housing in Gillingham. There is no council supported emergency shelter in Dartford.
In the current cold weather, it remains our view that the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol should be invoked immediately.
Local charities and churches in Dartford do fantastic work to help and support the homeless especially at this time of year. Dartford Churches together have a cold weather shelter that is run by volunteers who help to care for the homeless over the winter months.
But it cannot be right if the hard work of charities begins to fill a gap created cuts to funding to local councils and polices that are not fit for purpose.
There is little doubt that the sharp rise in homelessness is a direct result of the government’s indiscriminate welfare reforms, an unregulated private rental sector and crucially, massive cuts in funding to the councils who need to provide vital support.
However, with Dartford set for bitterly cold temperatures over the coming days there is more Dartford Council could and should be doing.
If it is cold enough for the Dartford Churches Winter Shelter to throw open their doors early, cold enough for Porchlight to ask people to refer rough sleepers to their emergency support, it is surely cold enough for Dartford Borough Council to invoke the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol and provide rough sleepers in Dartford the protection and support they need.
We can only hope it won’t take a death on the streets of Dartford for the council to act.
Dartford Labour Councillors
Links and Resources
You can contact Dartford Churches Winter Shelter on firstname.lastname@example.org
Porchlight are a a charity working across Kent, we help vulnerable and isolated people get support with their mental health, housing, education and employment needs. http://www.porchlight.org.uk/
The Labour Campaign to End Homelessness is a nationwide network of Labour activists who are determined to get out on to the streets and hand out supplies to those who need them most – rough sleepers. You can contact them at http://lceh.org.uk/