Homeless scheme could get reprieve from council cuts

This Is Wiltshire: Phil Smith,director of Threshold Housing Link, whose grant from the council may not be cut Phil Smith,director of Threshold Housing Link, whose grant from the council may not be cut

THE future of a street outreach service for homeless people could be secured after Swindon Council’s leaders revealed they are reconsidering their proposals to axe a charity’s annual £20,000 grant towards the service.

The Conservative administration revealed in December that it planned to stop the grant to homelessness charity Threshold Housing Link, as part of a bid to close an estimated £15m budget gap in 2013/14.

At the time, Threshold said this would threaten the service, which they believe is vital to tackle homelessness, and the leaders were to meet the council to make a case for retaining all or some of the funding before the full council agrees the final budget on February 21.

Now Coun Rod Bluh, the council leader, and Coun Russell Holland, cabinet member for One Swindon, localities and housing, have revealed that a “compelling case” has been put forward by the charity and they are reconsidering the decision.

Coun Bluh said: “I have had a good meeting with Threshold. They left me with a lot of information which we have considered.

“I’m not satisfied as yet – and I’m not pre-judging the outcome – that we have necessarily made a safe decision which is why we’re reviewing it and I have got meetings with lead members and officers before we meet to set the budget on February 21 to decide what the final decision should be.”

Last week, Threshold revealed to the Adver that the number of people sleeping rough in the town centre had hit an all time high, with the street outreach team reporting they were aware of 20 rough sleepers on Wednesday, January 30.

The figure, which was made up of people aged from 25 to 58, was an increase on the maximum of 15 people found to be sleeping rough in the whole of January last year.

Phil Smith, the operations director, said street outreach was “an essential element to getting people off the streets”, also pointing out that during January, the charity’s direct access hostel Culvery Court, in Harding Street, operated with a 99 per cent occupancy rate, with empty beds on only 10 occasions.

Reacting to the news at a recent council meeting, Mr Smith thanked Coun Bluh for meeting to discuss the issues.

But he added: “Looking through this paperwork that came up, I noticed there’s consideration of removing or re-allocating the money you use for your rent deposit scheme.

“We have recently secured funding from Crisis [a national homelessness charity] for two years for £40,000 and the key was to work in conjunction with what’s already there.

“If that money disappears, that’s going to de-value a service we hope to provide.”

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