Cutting rough sleeper officer role defended by council

Sleeping rough in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2018. Photo: Mark Williamson

Stratford District Council has defended its decision to axe the authority’s rough sleeper engagement officer role, despite continued concern about the plight of the homeless in the town.

Last week the council confirmed that the role, occupied by Ann Johnson since 2016, had been ended.

Efforts to help vulnerable people in Stratford are progressing, with the recent launch of the council’s Meaningful Change campaign and the anticipated establishment of the town’s new Housing Plus Centre at the Fred Winter Building on Henley Street next year.

However there is still concern from homeless campaigners about a lack of immediate available support, following the closure of the Stratford Link drop-in centre, on safety grounds, back in February.

Ann Johnson said: “It was a shock when I was let go, I’m not bitter about it and I understand that there are finances to consider, I just think it’s a shame that there is such a gap in provision now. It has been difficult for me because some people have trolled me, suggesting I left the council in the lurch, I want to make clear that I was made redundant, it was not my choice to go.

“With the closure of the Link drop-in centre and the street outreach workers provided by P3, the council felt they no longer needed my role, but I don’t think rough sleepers are quite getting the same level of support.”

A spokesperson for Stratford District Council said: “Ann was a great asset to the District Council throughout her period of employment. It was as a direct result of Ann’s work with the rough sleeper community, supported by the Link volunteers, that many individuals were helped into a new life off the streets.

“Once the Link was closed and new premises sought, the rough sleeper services had to be restructured in order to maintain contact with that community without having access to the same facilities.

“This required a very different approach and it is this change and only this change which brought an end to the need for the very specific role which Ann had been fulfilling. It is pleasing to note that over recent months there has been a significant reduction in the number of rough sleepers in the town and numbers continue to fall.”

Stratford homelessness campaigner Jackie Lines said: “Ann will be sorely missed, she did a great job and was highly valued by everyone.”

With the weather set to be colder in the coming weeks, the council’ s severe weather emergency protocol may soon be called into action to provide emergency accommodation for the homeless.

In November 2018 changes were made to the policy which meant accommodation would be offered every night temperatures were forecast to fall below zero degrees.

  • KJ

    The increase in recent years of homeless people and beggars on the streets of Stratford seems to suggest that closing the homeless centre on Waterside (soon to be residential to earn some money for the council) and the move to get rid of Ann, might not be the best way forward.