Community response is key to tackling challenges

Homeless. Picture: Getty Images

Torbay Council's homeless outreach team reaches out to those most in need. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Hello, I am from Torbay Council, is there anything I can do to help?

A very straight forward phrase, but one that can make all the difference.

Picture this, it’s a Friday morning, the sun is slowly rising on a summer’s day.

You’re waking up and planning your day ahead, whether it be the last day of the working week, a day out with the children, thinking about the list of never-ending household jobs, or an appointment you cannot be late for.

For many of us, that’s typically how our day starts.

But for Torbay Council's homeless outreach team, they are already up and out and checking in with Torbay’s homeless, and myself and Cllr Nick Pentney took the opportunity to join them.

At 5.30am we were on Torquay’s harbourside area, looking for and speaking to rough sleepers.

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The purpose... to ask them if there was anything we could do to help as well as offering them food and water.

I must admit I discovered corners of Torquay harbourside that I did not know existed.

After Torquay, we headed over to Preston beach huts and Paignton and asked the same question.

The rough sleepers who we spoke with were a mixed bunch of characters.

A minority who didn’t want to engage with the team at all and others they knew well and had a clear plan of how to assist them into accommodation.

The approach taken by the outreach teams very much reminded me of the policing programme ‘Call the Cops’ which aired a couple of years ago.

One particular episode stood out for me, when an officer was filmed speaking to a distressed person at one of Torbay’s beauty spots.

The officer's first conversation with the person began with: “Hello, my name is, I am here to help”.

Sometimes all someone needs to hear is a friendly voice and knowing that there is someone who cares enough to ask if they need help.

Personally, I feel it is something to be proud of that while most of us are getting up in the morning, there are people reaching out to those at the margins of our society.

I found this life-affirming and I know what we saw was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Torbay’s housing crisis.

I’ve talked a lot lately about Torbay’s housing challenges and for that I make no apologies.

The unprecedented demand for accommodation makes it incredibly difficult for those on lower and average incomes to access accommodation.

Property prices are increasing due to supply and demand, rents are increasing as the market changes, there are up to 50 people applying for each private-rented property and landlords are pulling out of the rental market and ending tenancies to sell their properties to take advantage of rising house prices.

It is not only for the reasons I’ve just  mentioned, as there are lots of other examples of why people are finding themselves homeless.

From job losses and unaffordability to relationship breakdowns and fleeing domestic violence, the reasons for people requiring temporary accommodation are more complex than ever.

Torbay currently has 149 households in temporary accommodation – 49 of those households are families with children.

There are also more than 1,400 households on the housing register seeking a home of their own.

We are committed to delivering our housing strategy to address some of these challenges.

A priority for the partnership that runs Torbay Council is working to improve the delivery, affordability and quality of housing in Torbay.

We continue to work with landlords and potential providers of temporary accommodation to find suitable solutions to help those in housing need.

People thrive when they have the basics.

Sometimes that can simply be a ‘hello’ or a conversation asking how they are.

What I do know is kindness and a whole community response is key to tackling Torbay’s challenges.