Leeds Homeless Charter launches at St George's Centre to combat rough sleeping in the city

A new collaboration to reduce homelessness and rough sleeping in Leeds has been launched - the latest in a series of city-wide efforts.

The Leeds Homeless Charter has been made public today at an event at the St George's Centre.

Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn, deputy leader Leeds City Council Debra Coupar, those with "lived experience" of homelessness and leaders on the issue from around the city attended the launch at the Great George Street facility.

It is a set of actions and aims which "act as a foundation" for a wide range of people in the city to work together to tackle homelessness.

By signing the charter, participants - including those with experience of being homeless, grassroots groups, Leeds City Council, commissioned services and charities, as well as churches, mosques, synagogues and those from other faith communities - are agreeing to play their part.

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It is not intended to be an in-depth strategy, the likes of which have already been developed by the council, "but is part of a process by which Leeds is becoming more and more interconnected in order to tackle homelessness more effectively".

Dave Paterson,  Chairman of Leeds Homeless Charter, Becky Joyce  of the Homeless Street Angels, Hilary Benn MP and Coun Debra Coupar, deputy leader of  Leeds City Council  at the Homeless Charter launch at St George's Centre in Leeds. .

Dave Paterson, Chairman of Leeds Homeless Charter, Becky Joyce of the Homeless Street Angels, Hilary Benn MP and Coun Debra Coupar, deputy leader of Leeds City Council at the Homeless Charter launch at St George's Centre in Leeds. .

The charter has been put together as three working groups: charities and grassroots groups connected to formal services, those with experience of addiction and mental health, and homelessness and migration workers.

Homeless Charter chairman Dave Paterson, who works with of Unity in Poverty Action, said the project started after a similar charter was set up in Manchester.

He said: "It's really been a positive process. I think relationships are better in the city now than they have been for a while, and when we do have issues and we need to work through complexity and challenges, we're able to do so, I think, in a much better way that we were, say, three years ago and that's really, really encouraging.

"It's about bringing people together from across the whole city. It's open to everyone."

A good turnout at the St George's Centre.

A good turnout at the St George's Centre.

He added: "The whole dynamic of the city centre, it's a very interesting place, it's sometimes quite a dangerous place, quite a difficult place and there's lots of people out on the street, lots of street based activity.

"What does the charter do? It provides a foundation for building relationships. A piece of paper is not going to do anything. But a piece of paper backed up by lots of relationships with on going work taking place through these three different working groups - and through the Big Change Leeds, and the Street Support which is really helpful - it's that that's going to take our city forward."

The charter will be reviewed on an annual basis and can be used to hold different participants who sign up to it to account, organisers say.

The aim is to see a reduction in homelessness by preventing it happening in the first place, seeing less people sleeping rough on the streets and ensuring that vulnerable people go on to live in secure and safe housing.

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Among the speakers at the event are those who have experienced addiction and been homeless but have turned their lives around.

Becky Joyce co-founded and directs the Homeless Street Angels, which donates essentials to rough sleepers in the city.

She spoke of how she stopped using heroin 12 years ago, when she lived in a Holbeck squat, and has now transformed her life after her family paid for help from a private clinic.

"All of these guys [on the street], none of them are as lucky as me," she said.

"A lot of them have family, but a lot of them don't want to know."

She later added: "Fingers crossed, in the future we might be able to make more of a difference."

Sipilien Birian told the audience how after becoming homeless following a failed asylum application , he would spend £1 on the longest Megabus journey he could get just to stay off the streets.

The charter is linked to a number of other schemes such as Big Change Leeds, outreach work from the Street Support team, the Leeds Homeless Forum, the council's Homeless

Strategy and the Leeds Migration Partnership.

Big Change began late last year as an alternative-giving campaign, aiming to provide practical support to those on the city’s streets by focusing on the provision of essential everyday items which are often unfunded such as a bus pass, deposit for a flat, and items of clothing or basic furniture.

Mr Benn concluded the event, and said: "I think of a woman who came to my surgery a few months ago and revealed that she and her three children had been living in a car for three weeks.

"Now, I've got four kids. They're very big now. It's moments like that where you think, 'When they were little, how would we manage living in a car with three kids for three weeks.

"She's housed, which brings me on to how we made progress. Because as Debra [Coupar] said, and I want to echo that, as today demonstrates, we're only going to solve this problem and make further progress if we work together. And that's one of the most important things it seems to me about the process which has led to this charter.

"Because the process of coming together, the conversation, the grilling - the reflection on what we do and how we do it and what works well and what doesn't and how we can do it better - that is what really cements a partnership between people who have a single goal even though each of you is playing a single part in doing something about it."