photo ©Mark Brookes

Housing is quite the hot political potato at the moment and all the issues that we and other housing organisations have been shouting about are swirling around as the new cabinet gets its own house in order.  Can the government use the Covid initiatives around rough sleeping to get homeless people through this winter? We spoke to the Senior Outreach worker at Mendip District Council to find out what it’s like being on the front line of homelessness. See our article below and meet some of the team.  Just on the cusp of being improved, renters rights could be rowed back by the new PM. We share some of the facts with you about Frome’s housing problems from our latest Frome Renting Alliance event. This month our expert speaker was Iona Fitzgerald from Citizens Advice Mendip who is a passionate advocate of those in housing need.  See our Planning Update from Steve Tanner, development worker for Fair Housing for Frome at the bottom of this newsletter, with a link to the planning portal where you can have your say.
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Update on Homelessness Action in Frome
As the weather gets colder, people’s thoughts often turn to those having to sleep outside and find out what they can do to help. This year Mendip District Council is delivering a new rough sleepers service so we wanted to catch up with the new Outreach Workers at Mendip to find out more about what they do. Becci Miller has been the Senior Assertive Outreach Worker since April and heads up a small team who are out every morning at 6am to find rough sleepers following up the reports that come from colleagues, members of the public and Streetlink. The team has coffee and hot chocolate ready to help smooth out that early conversation and then the work begins to try to help that person. The benefit of having the team working within the council itself is that the outreach workers can carry out a fully joined up service with the housing options team, who are trained in housing law and use the same systems. Every winter there is a count of rough sleepers across the county to assess if the situation is worsening. Becci said “Prevention is the focus of the government’s new rough sleeping strategy. We know that rough sleepers are the tip of the iceberg because there are many hidden homeless too. But these figures are hard to quantify because so many people won’t even approach the council. Part of our job is reconnecting people who are rough sleeping here back to locations they came from when that’s outside the Mendip area. We are aware of a high proportion arriving to newly sleep on the street in Mendip who were not previously living here prior to sleeping rough.”“Covid has taught us so much – Everyone In, banning evictions, it’s all possible. It was an incredible time, seeing nobody on the streets. It’s so sad to see people sleeping rough again.”Becci talked about the importance of people registering on Homefinder to express an interest in social housing where eligible, even if they think they are a low priority. This helps the council to monitor the numbers of people in housing need. . When it’s very cold for a prolonged period, SWEP comes into force. SWEP is the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol and the local authority must provide shelter for rough sleepers to prevent death. Bed and Breakfast accommodation is used by Mendip rather than a hostel or dormitory style shelter. Becci said “Many rough sleepers have complex needs and it’s more respectful to give people their own space and privacy.” Read the full article here
Iona FitzGerald from Citizens Advice Mendip Talks to the Frome Renting AllianceFrome Renting Alliance Event with Citizens Advice MendipPeople who came to our Frome Renting Alliance event at the Cheese and Grain last month were given an insight into the local housing picture by Iona Fitzgerald from Citizens Advice Mendip. Before the discussion, Iona gave an interesting presentation and some of the information gives us a good picture into the problems people are experiencing.  Iona said that in the last 12 months, Citizens Advice Mendip advisers helped 4,081 clients and that around 600 of these approached CA with housing as their main issue – 16% or 1 in 6 clients. The reasons were complex and many overlapped with debt problems but the table below gives the detail on the figures for people approaching Citizens Advice Mendip with Private Rental problems.
People on Universal Credit with a housing payment experience a big difference between the amount paid by UC and the rent being charged by private landlords on the open market. shows the current rental picture in Frome like this:  No. of propertiesAverage rentMedian Rent1 bedroom1£630£6302 bedrooms4£988£9503 bedrooms5£1300£12004 bedrooms4£1550£1600
Read the full article here
Planning Update from Steve Tanner our Development Worker
Steve says: As ever, housing and the development of land is a big topic of discussion within our town. The amended plans for Selwood Garden Community are on the Mendip planning portal and Somerset County Council is working with Live West to develop a field at Packsaddle. No plans have been submitted for this yet but it has already generated strong views and plenty of objections from local residents.The voices to stop these developments happening are already loud & clear; loss of green spaces, damage to ecological sites and that Frome doesn’t need any more housing are among the reasons. We fully agree the need to protect green spaces is of paramount importance but we must also be aware that there are over 800 households looking for a home in Frome at the moment, we hope that the discussions surrounding these developments can be balanced and take the views & needs of those desperate for a home into account, as well as those that are fortunate to already have one. Frome needs the right kind of homes – sustainable and affordable, and Fair Housing for Frome will keep calling for that to be made a priority. 
If you see someone rough sleeping please ring Streetlink on 0300 5000914 or see FHfF’s information leaflet about homelessness.
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