A new service has been launched by Birmingham City Council, Birmingham Police and homeless support agencies to help rough sleepers and tackle nuisance begging.
The dedicated Homeless Street Triage (HOST) car – introduced on a trial basis on August 17 – will respond to the growing number of calls reporting homelessness, begging and anti-social drinking in the city centre.
In the last year – from May 2014 to April 2015 – West Midlands Police took just over 1,000 calls about homelessness and begging.
Homeless hotspots were around New Street, Corporation Street, John Bright Street and Smallbrook Queensway, while most begging complaints directed officers to Bull Street, New Street and Ladywell Walk.
The new HOST car – provided by housing group Midlands Heart – will carry a Birmingham Police officer in plain clothes alongside two outreach workers, including a substance abuse specialist, and operate from 9am till 9pm Monday to Friday
Councillor John Cotton, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhood Management & Homes, said: “In the first two weeks, the service has engaged with 69 people on the street, offered assistance and signposted to support agencies.
“This multi-agency, targeted approach to the plight of people finding themselves without accommodation is very welcome in our city. Its main focus is to sensitively and responsibly respond to the complex needs of individuals who have ended up sleeping on the streets to ensure they get the help and support they need.”
City centre police sergeant Lee Howard, added: “The aim is to help rough sleepers – people often with complex needs who struggle to access services – and direct them to benefits, housing, alcohol and substance abuse services, or mental health support.
“It will be a compassionate response recognising that police custody is usually not the most appropriate place for people involved in anti-social street activities.
“However, where we do encounter repeat nuisance beggars – those who intimidate members of the public, ignore warnings or refuse to take advantage of support – they will be arrested.”
A police survey of city centre businesses – conducted in May and June – revealed that 88 per cent said there was a problem with begging and almost all of the 200-plus bosses interviewed said it had an adverse effect on trade.
West Midlands Police officers joined transport police and outreach support workers from Midland Heart during an ‘All-Out Day’ in June during which around 50 rough sleepers and beggars were encountered.
Some took up the opportunity of beds at the Salvation Army, several begging warning notices were issues and three people were arrested.
And Raj Shroff, Deputy Director for Care and Support at Midland Heart, added: “This is a fantastic partnership approach which sees our homelessness outreach team working with local police teams to engage individuals who’ve found themselves sleeping on the streets of Birmingham.
“This is a much needed initiative and we are delighted it has already brought really positive results, including very positive feedback from customers. Our priority is to ensure that the right services and advice is given to ultimately help an individual get back on their feet.”
Members of the public are encouraged to alert homeless charity Streetlink to any rough sleepers via www.streetlink.org, by calling 0300 500 0914 or by using the Streetlink app.
To report begging or anti-social street drinking call West Midlands Police on the 101 non-emergency number.
For more media information contact Press and PR Officer Debbie Harrison on 303 4476