As Milton Keynes Council strives desperately to reduce rough sleeping on city streets, another winter of discontent is looming for dozens of homeless people forced to live under canvas.
Activists say a third season of consultations by the council is not good enough and immediate action is needed.
The MK People’s Assembly this week organised a ‘Sit in Solidarity’ protest on the steps of the city church – the very spot where homeless man Tony Porter died of hypothermia 19 months ago.
The tragedy was the start of a grim trio of rough sleeper deaths, culminating in James Owens being found lifeless in his tent under a CMK underpass last October.
There are currently 130 people sleeping rough in MK. Yet, despite the best efforts of charities, volunteers and the council, the Winter Night Shelter and Bus Shelter can accommodate just 46 of them – all with relatively low support needs, claimed assembly chair Kevin Vickers.
“We’ve attended two years of meetings with no progress on this issue. We cannot keep quiet as the council try to avoid the issue with another three month winter consultation,” he said.
“Homeless people need safe and secure accommodation and support to have a chance to get back on their feet. There are hundreds of empty buildings in Milton Keynes, why are they not being used?” he added.
But the council’s cabinet, which last week launched draft proposals for a £300,000 12-point plan to help rough sleepers, insists it is doing its very best.
Its Labour leaders blame Tory government cuts for not allowing them to do more.
Indeed, within days of the 12-point plan being aired, the council learned it will lose £2.31 million in homelessness funding from central government over the next two years.
Councillor Nigel Long, cabinet member for housing, is writing to the two MK MPs urging them to help restore the funding.
Meanwhile the council has put the new ‘Rough Sleeper Reduction Strategy’ out for 12 week of public consultation.
It aims to provide a ‘joined-up approach’ from agencies to stop people sleeping rough in the first place, provide an outreach service for people on the streets and find suitable housing. But Mr Long admits tackling the rapidly rising numbers of homelessness in MK will be a ‘huge challenge’.