Working with the police has helped one council soothe tensions between the community and homeless people, finds Anita Pati
It started with a chat for housing officer Karen Hunt, and grew into a partnership.
A problem with homeless tenants in temporary accommodation was the catalyst for a scheme run by North Cornwall Council, based in Wadebridge, and neighbourhood police teams from Devon and Cornwall Constabulary in Launceston, Bude, Bodmin, Camelford and Wadebridge.
The joint community safety visits facilitated by the scheme have had a calming effect on homeless clients and on the local community.
The council’s homelessness team and the police first paired up three years ago, when trouble kicked off in a complex of properties.
‘Unfortunately, some of the people we moved were fairly chaotic and the problems they brought with them were affecting the local community,’ says Ms Hunt, a temporary accommodation officer.
There were serious problems with drugs in the area, she adds. ‘These people had associates who were well-known dealers and they were visiting [clients] on the property and bringing the problems that come with that.’
Ms Hunt, who now visits 40 temporary households every month with a police officer, says the council and the police were both receiving complaints from members of the community. ‘So we got together to show a united approach.’
They moved residents to bed and breakfast accommodation in different areas to diffuse the situation. But she realised that the visit with the police had engaged both the local community, who hadn’t liked homeless residents living in their area, and the homeless people, who could sometimes be suspicious of the police.
‘It sent out a message of positive community reinforcement,’ she says. Households took Ms Hunt’s and the officer’s contact details, keeping communication channels open. ‘They appreciated that we were taking the problem seriously and that we acted quickly.’
Ms Hunt says homeless clients also behaved differently when she brought the police with her. ‘They were much more respectful, both to the council and to the police. It helped to break down barriers,’ she says.
‘[They] realised that the police aren’t only there to enforce. They are there to support.’
Through her work Ms Hunt supports people in temporary accommodation, deals with management and tenant behaviour issues, and prepares tenants for more permanent housing.
She says the area around Bodmin and Launceston, which is very rural, creates its own difficulties.
‘There’s quite a lot of unemployment in that district as a whole. We’re heavily dependent on tourism there and homelessness is a problem.’
Visits have morphed from ad hoc into regular monthly events involving all tenants. Each time Ms Hunt visits she is accompanied by a police community support officer, a police constable or a sergeant from one of the neighbourhood teams. As soon as new tenants move in they receive a letter explaining that they will be visited ‘to answer any questions or queries they have, and that it’s nothing to worry about’, says Ms Hunt.
The team speaks to landlords of temporary accommodation if concerns are raised about residents, then spends about an hour with that household exploring any problems within the area, accommodation or personal safety issues.
This is important, she says, ‘especially if it’s somebody who’s been placed away from their normal support network’.
Ms Hunt says that the scheme has been successful and there are now fewer complaints.
‘People in temporary accommodation are happier. Although the things we do seem small, it seems to have quite an impact on them.’
She cites one woman who suffered domestic violence and feels safer knowing that there is a police presence keeping an eye on her area.
She also mentions a single mother who was worried that her 10 and 12-year-old sons were drinking with older children.
‘The police officer was able to put her mind at rest by telling her about patrols and put them in contact with after-school activities.’
They try to keep clients in touch with the officer they saw originally. ‘The continuity does help as people tend to be more open and to share more information,’ says Ms Hunt.
Information sharing between both parties has also improved and made a dent in the anti-social behaviour in the area. Information flow has also improved at multi-agency meetings that include youth offending teams and social services.
Any concerns about tenants can be easily flagged up. The same team, where possible, delivers anti-social behaviour letters or warnings to households.
The partnership plans to grow the team, which currently consists of five neighbourhood groups with three or four officers in each.
The scheme works, she says, because ‘the police are finding out things from the people, the people are feeling they’re being supported and communities are feeling like they’re being listened to’.