Acting Strategic Director for Place at Birmingham city Council, Jacqui Kennedy, talks about St Basils’ Sleep Out, sleeping rough and a coordinated approach.
On Friday night I joined hundreds of people for St Basils’ Big Sleep Out. This is an annual event which brings people together to sleep out for the night in plastic covered cardboard boxes. The aim is to raise money to help prevent youth homelessness across the West Midlands. It also serves to highlight the issue and bring people together, so a very positive thing.
I am passionate about all things housing and homes and, like most Brummies, I’m also saddened by the growing numbers of homeless people and rough sleepers in Birmingham and across the country (in fact the whole of the EU bar Finland as I recently learnt at our homeless summit). The Big Sleep Out was therefore a chance to raise some money for St Basils – an organisation I know very well through the amazing work it does in partnership with the council to support our young homeless people. It also turned out to be an opportunity to meet and listen to some of St Basils’ service users and spend time with other like-minded people concerned about the growth in homelessness and how we can help stop it.
During the night I met people from all over the city, including familiar faces such as Lucy O’Grady, Eddie Fellows and Jenny Moten from Amey and Sophie Hall from Friendship Care and Housing and I bumped into Tony Lloyd’s (People Directorate) wife Lisa Lloyd who was sleeping out with her colleagues from Nationwide. I was also lucky to meet a few famous faces including the amazing Bishop of Birmingham Bishop Urquhart and the man in the red suit Father Christmas.
To see so many people giving their time voluntarily to raise money for charity reminded me why I am so proud of our city and citizens. Across the city there are now hundreds of people giving up their time voluntarily to help people who are sleeping rough. Some are giving out sleeping bags or clothes whilst others are helping to feed them. The challenge is how to coordinate the city’s response to avoid duplication on timings and locations. We’re also missing an opportunity if we fail to engage with people who are sleeping rough to see if we can get them off the streets and into programmes that can help with substance abuse and mental health issues, all too often the back drop to this misery.
A year ago we brought twenty-five organisations together through our outreach accreditation scheme and discussed how to coordinate a city wide response. We also set up training to help both outreach workers and their customers with outreach DOs and DON’Ts and safeguarding overviews.
Two weeks ago, another dozen voluntary outreach groups met up. We heard that many experienced outreach workers are overwhelmed by the generosity of those who wanted to join them. But they also said that people often didn’t realise how complicated it is to support and engage with our rough sleepers and they decided that they too would begin a journey of coordinated work and training with another event planned for January.
All this gives me hope. Homelessness is rising across Europe, but in Birmingham at least the people willing to help and work together is also rising. Together we can do so much to ease this problem and give more people a chance to live full and healthy lives, off the streets.
Thank you to everyone who is doing what they can. I only slept out for one night, and that was my choice. We must ensure that we enable people to be able to make the choices I can to have a roof over my head and a comfy clean bed every night.
Thank you to everyone at St Basils who are doing a fantastic job. I managed to raise over £600 so thank you to the people who sponsored me, I hope this raises awareness and some money to keep this excellent work going. Thank you also to Greggs whose staff greeted everyone taking part with a fab bacon roll when we got up – they were lovely.