Recently I have received numerous emails complaining about the increase in homelessness in Chester.
Sadly, too many of these have complained not about the plight of the homeless, but the sight of the homeless.
The mess of scattered personal belongings in shop fronts. The makeshift shelters to protect from the elements. Constituents have complained about the unpleasant image this projects to visitors.
Since 2010 homelessness has doubled nationally and almost trebled in the North West. This is a national crisis, not a local Chester problem. And the causes are various.
I am pretty sure nobody ever left school and thought, “when I grow up, I want to live the life of a homeless beggar on the streets.”
Changes to the benefits system, including the hated bedroom tax and universal credit, mean people fall behind with their rent and are evicted. More jobs these days are precarious and insecure, so folk can’t be sure to be able to pay their rent even if in work, so they get evicted.
For people from troubled backgrounds, there is now much less support: NHS support for mental health problems has been cut and so have drug & alcohol addiction services which have also been privatised.
Amidst this chaos, our award-winning local council has brought together a coalition of voluntary and church groups to provide homeless support despite the massive £57 million in budget cuts from central government it has had to manage over the last four years.
They have opened new homeless facilities and made Hamilton House in the centre of town a new homeless drop in to speed up the process of getting rough sleepers off the streets and into housing.
And the council has also started building the first council housing in our area for forty years, to help take the pressure off just a little bit.
Let’s be clear: cuts to public services by central government impact the hardest at local level, and that impact takes several forms.
It means fewer police on our streets. It means schools having larger class sizes and fewer teachers. It means NHS services at breaking points. And it clearly also means more homeless on the streets of Chester with less support to stop these vulnerable people’s lives falling into chaos.
I am proud of our local council leadership for responding as well as they have in such terrible circumstances. No wonder they won Council of the Year last year.
But cuts have consequences, and the responsibility for local service cuts lies not with the council having to implement them. But with the central government that has slashed that cash. The government must accept their responsibility for causing this national crisis.