A NEW group is being set up to devise ways to tackle rough sleeping across Worcestershire following a meeting of experts in Malvern.

The group will pull in representatives from across the public, housing, charitable and voluntary sectors, including national homelessness charity Shelter.

The initiative follows the death of two rough sleepers in the Malvern area around Christmas.

The group’s role will be to come up with a new model for supporting rough sleepers, particularly those who have been on the streets for some time. This will then be aligned with existing countywide and national homelessness strategies.

The move follows the Rough Sleeping Expert Panel event held at Great Malvern Priory last week, organised by Malvern Hills District Council.

More than 50 representatives from a range of organisations including housing, mental health, police and drug and alcohol services were brought together to discuss ways of dealing with a problem that is growing across Worcestershire and the country.

Vicky Hines, from Shelter, challenged those present to consider a new approach from the bottom up, based on the experiences of those rough sleeping and accessing existing services.

A number of themes emerged during the event which will influence the task and finish group’s work including:

*Adopting the principle of Housing First by housing people quickly, before then supporting them to deal with underlying issues such as mental health, drug or alcohol addiction

*The need for long-term wrap around support to help people with complex issues sustain tenancies

*Addressing gaps in provision, particularly around access to mental health services

*A need to improve information sharing and to use it more intelligently

*Increasing availability of secure, affordable tenancies

*Increasing public education around rough sleeping and harnessing people’s desire to help through an alternative giving scheme

Cllr David Chambers, leader of Malvern Hills District Council, said: “The event was extremely informative and provided an opportunity for some very honest discussions to take place. While those present acknowledged the good work already being done to help those sleeping rough, there was recognition we need to go further and faster and that calls for a new way of approaching the problem.

“There are no easy fixes and we can’t force people to accept the help on offer. However, there is a huge amount of determination to see an end to rough sleeping and I’m personally committed to ensuring this issue will remain at the top of the agenda.”