The West Midlands is to be the first region to provide housing for rough sleepers as part of a flagship government policy.

The Government announced in May that it was providing cash for "Housing First" projects in the West Midlands, Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City region.

Some Labour politicians have criticised what seems to be a long delay between the funding announcement and housing being provided.

But the West Midlands Combined Authority says it expects to have the first Housing First recipients in accommodation by Christmas, ahead of the other combined authorities.

Housing First is designed to help people who need a home but also need extra help to stay off the streets. They may have mental health issues or a drug addiction and need counselling and support.

The regional Housing First pilot secured £9.6M from Government and is being led by Birmingham City Council.

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “As winter draws in, it is vital we make the right preparations to help rough sleepers get the support they need.

“Local authorities in the West Midlands have come together with charities and businesses to agree this Winter Plan for Rough Sleepers, with its commitments to severe weather provision, Housing First, Change into Action and other support.

“There are many dedicated people who work incredibly hard for local authorities and charities throughout the year to help vulnerable people. Over the next few months we will all need to work even harder to support them.”

Coun Sharon Thompson, Cabinet Member for Homes and Neighbourhoods at Birmingham City Council, said: “It is so important that we work together across the city and region to address homelessness and rough sleeping.

"Nobody should have to sleep rough and it is even more important we support them as the temperature drops. Our cold weather provision is now in place and will remain so until the weather improves; we have rest rooms in our hostels, hot meal provision and, importantly, a chance to engage with people using these services.

“There are a great many hard-working people from charities and public organisations who will be out and about helping people this winter, as they do throughout the year.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street

“We still have a challenge ahead of us to achieve our vision of eradicating homelessness in Birmingham, including the number of people rough sleeping, and our focus is very much on intervention and trying to stop rough sleeping and homelessness from occurring in the first place."

Local authorities across the West Midlands say they are committed to ensuring no one need sleep rough this winter.

This winter, each council will use their own plans and expertise to help rough sleepers. Specifically, rough sleeper outreach teams in Birmingham, Coventry, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton will work to rapidly respond to locate people known to be sleeping rough and support them to access a place of safety.

They say the goal is that everyone who is sleeping rough in the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) area will be able to access severe weather provision. This includes people whose needs are complex, pet owners, couples, those who have no recourse to public funds, people who may have previously been banned from support services and those with no local connection.

People in the West Midlands will be able to alert local authorities to rough sleepers in their area by contacting StreetLink who will connect them to local support services.

The rough sleeper count published by the Government in January this year showed that there 57 rough sleepers in Birmingham, up from 55 in 2016.

And this only captured a small part of the problem, according to Peter Stephenson, Assistant Chief Executive of the YMCA in Birmingham.

He said in May: “Unfortunately nobody really knows the scale of under-counting. But services that deal with rough sleepers know they deal with a lot more people than the official statistics would suggest.”