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Out of the cold

Nobody should be forced to sleep on the streets and a new initiative in Merseyside aims to stop this happening

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At the age of 20, Becky, from the Wirral, was forced to flee her home because of domestic violence. Her only option was to sleep on the streets. She was so frightened that night, that she begged two of her friends to sleep rough with her.

At the same time, Terry, from Knowsley, was left without a home when his marriage broke down after 40 years. The extreme stress this put him under left him seriously sick and afraid for his future. And in St Helens, John was faced with drug and alcohol abuse that can accompany a life living rough.

These are just three stories from Merseyside, but I could give you hundreds more. Luckily, help is at hand. These stories have happy endings because Becky, Terry and John were all reached by support workers as part of the No Second Night Out programme.

No Second Night Out aims to reach homeless people the moment they are forced to sleep rough. Its guiding principle, as the name suggests, is that no one should have to spend a second night on the streets.

The Merseyside No Second Night Out scheme is now being expanded. The first of its kind outside the capital, it will work differently from the London model as it will not have a central hub. Rather, the initiative is about ensuring that people who are sleeping rough are identified quickly and given a speedy route into local services which will get them off the streets immediately.

The Communities and Local Government department has provided £120,000 to extend the initiative throughout the city region. The extra money has been used to set up and publicise a helpline, to increase outreach provision and provide a small team of people to co-ordinate access to the existing services.

The No Second Night Out campaign follows radical changes in the approach to reducing rough sleeping in Liverpool. In August 2008, the council and its partners identified 224 people who said they were sleeping rough - 88 of these were entrenched rough sleepers. This was many more people than expected and as a result of this research the council completely changed the way it dealt with rough sleeping.

We developed a clear process for identifying, tracking, and supporting rough sleepers off the streets on an individual basis. Using this approach the number of people sleeping rough without a solution in any one month has reduced to an average of 15.

Given the success of this approach, and the reductions in rough sleeping we’ve seen, the question which may be asked is why Merseyside is adopting No Second Night Out.

The answer is simple: it is because it is the right thing to do. People are forced out of their homes for all sorts of reasons, and those reasons won’t go away. When people are forced to sleep rough for their first night, we need to promise them that they won’t have to spend a second night on the streets.

Ann O’Byrne is cabinet member for housing and community safety at Liverpool Council

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