Newcastle City Council’s recent proposal to slash spending on homelessness prevention services and emergency beds has triggered concerns among former rough sleepers and housing providers. The plan, part of the civic centre’s broader budget cuts, could see a significant reduction in accommodation and support services for the homeless in the city. Advocates for the homeless argue that such cuts may lead to severe consequences, even fatal outcomes, for some of Newcastle’s most vulnerable citizens.
In November, it was revealed that the council is considering halving the amount allocated for accommodation and support services for homeless individuals. This has raised alarms among North East housing providers, especially considering Newcastle’s longstanding reputation for its internationally-acclaimed response to homelessness.
Former rough sleepers, who have successfully transitioned to stable lives with the help of charities like Changing Lives, are expressing their worries. The organization, currently providing 219 out of the 734 beds commissioned by the council, has been a crucial support system for individuals who underwent homelessness. One individual, once homeless, credits the organization for providing life-altering help with education, mental health, medical appointments, and benefits. This person emphasizes the potential life-threatening consequences of the proposed budget cuts, stating, “People’s lives are going to be at risk because of this [budget cut].”
The narrative sheds light on the challenges faced by those living on the streets, highlighting the constant fear for one’s life and the vulnerability to violence and substance abuse. Despite a turbulent past, this person is now on a positive trajectory, pursuing courses in woodwork and tiling, thanks to the support received from Changing Lives.
While the council justifies its plans as an effort to streamline the homelessness service and transition individuals into permanent accommodation more swiftly, critics argue that the reduction in emergency beds could exacerbate the existing crisis. The council has not specified the exact number of beds to be cut, but the proposed budget reduction from £3.3 million to £1.6 million for homelessness prevention contracts raises concerns about the potential loss of over 300 beds.
A representative from Changing Lives expressed surprise at the sudden proposal in November. They highlighted that the consequences of more people on the streets could include “more aggressive begging, more people taking drugs, becoming involved in county lines, being sexually exploited.” The representative warns that the long-term financial costs to the council might outweigh the short-term savings from the budget cut.
Another individual who received support from Changing Lives shares their experience of seven years of assistance. Now living in their own property, they acknowledge the positive impact of the organization and caution against the proposed budget cuts. They state, “It is going to lead to massive problems for the city and for the people who are on the streets. If they cut the budget then they are doing wrong because there are a lot of people out there who need help like I did.”
The potential budget cuts, expected to be finalized in March, were addressed at a civic centre scrutiny meeting on Thursday. Deputy council leader Karen Kilgour defended the proposal, stating that the aim is to improve the efficiency of the homelessness system. Kilgour explained, “It is not about saying we are going to cut something in half, it is about reviewing the whole system to make it work better.” She argued that moving people through the system more quickly would reduce the need for as many emergency beds.
However, critics remain sceptical, emphasizing the importance of a comprehensive and sustainable approach to homelessness that doesn’t compromise the immediate safety and well-being of those on the streets. As discussions continue, the fate of Newcastle’s homeless population hangs in the balance, awaiting decisions that could shape the city’s response to this critical issue for years to come.
In the face of such potential consequences, community leaders, advocates, and concerned citizens are urging the council to reconsider and find alternative solutions that prioritize the safety and welfare of the homeless population in Newcastle. The ongoing dialogue between stakeholders will likely play a crucial role in determining the future direction of the city’s homelessness services.