My Outreach Contribution for December 2023 & January 2024

Posted on: 24th November 2023

My Outreach contribution for December 2023 & January 2024 is a bit different with a focus on the Housing Crisis and Homelessness.


By Councillor Sue James

A very different piece from me, reflecting on 2 housing related events I’ve been involved in since I last wrote. What follows is my write up of a Radical Housing Conference I attended and a Press Release Councillor Jayne Kirkham and I issued, after being involved in the Annual Count of Rough Sleepers in Cornwall.


Conference Headlines/ Themes

Day 1 – Community Land & Finance

A key learning point for me was that the Church is stepping up to recognise and respond to the Housing Crisis. Nationally a Church Housing Foundation has formed to mobilise and equip the Church and connect with those who share our ambition to provide more high quality and truly affordable housing, supporting stronger communities.” There is also a Church Housing Association to directly meet housing need, focusing on the needs of the poorest; they are looking at new build and empty homes renovation. Finally, the Church has formed a Church Development Agency to provide a team of experts to support diocese wanting to get involved.

Other key conference messages were:

  • The system for providing homes is broken;
  • Immediate, rapid, large scale, unprecedented and far reaching action is needed;
  • Smaller, local community activists need to be regarded as 1st responders and they need to be enabled to experiment so that small scale might become large scale, contributing to system change at local and National level;
  • Planning systems and many developers focus on building houses, flats etc but the system needs to switch to providing homes for all and building resilient communities;
  • Need to ensure that work to solve the Housing Crisis doesn’t worsen the Climate Crisis – so must not rely on cement/ concrete based housing solutions due to high emissions of CO2 to produce.

Day 2 – Homelessness, Care & Inclusion Resilience

Key themes on reducing homelessness

  • Find out the numbers of single, homeless people in Cornwall and what funds are being spent to house them in emergency accommodation; (Told temporary accommodation placements in England are the highest they have been for 18 years)
  • Need to shift Council spending from providing temporary housing solutions to permanent homes, at scale and rapidly;
  • There is a need for 1 bedroom homes – myth is that they are not necessary, perpetuated by funding and business model of many housing associations, councils and Homes England;

Key themes re homes for families and individuals with Special Needs

We had a few wheelchair using speakers address us and an NHS England speaker considering the needs of those with autism or learning disabilities. A huge need to look at accessible housing to meet their needs and move away to people being offered a ‘placement’ or finding themselves in institutions, not homes. Also relevant to ‘bed blocking’ conversations as if more homes were suitable for a range of physical needs, more patients would be able to leave hospital without having to wait for adaptations to their homes.

There are over 100,000 wheel chair users in the UK – some on their own, some as part of families and they seek housing solutions that are good for wheel chair users but that do not render the home inappropriate to non wheel chair users.


Image by Christopher Furlong-Getty

Annually there is a National count of Rough Sleepers in our Towns and Cities throughout the UK. This is a snapshot of a single night in the autumn and last year it was reported that 3,069 people were sleeping rough, up 626 (26 per cent) on the equivalent total for the previous year and nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) higher than in 2010 when the figures began.

A wintery night in November, Cornwall Councillor Jayne Kirkham and St Just Town Councillor Sue James took part in walking the streets and wooded paths of Cornwall, volunteering for the Count in and around different towns. Although the Councillors got involved independently of each other and did not meet up during the count, both were equally upset and angered by the comments of M.P Suella Braverman, suggesting rough sleepers were “Foreigners…making lifestyle choices” and that “nobody in Britain should be living in a tent.”

Councillors Kirkham and James would agree that nobody should be living in a tent, (or on our streets without a tent for that matter) but having gone out and seen people sleeping rough when storm Ciaran had barely passed over, it was clear to them this was no lifestyle choice.

Talking with those on the streets last night (Monday 6 November) and back when a Cornwall Council Cabinet Member, Sue James concluded “That having no-where to live is something that could happen to anyone following a negative life event like family or relationship breakdown, sudden loss of income or even a no fault eviction, given the current housing crisis.

“Rather than blaming those forced to live on our streets perhaps the Government should look closer to home at policies over many years that mean the wealthy can easily own a second home that remains empty most the time, whilst others cannot afford to rent, let alone buy a home to sleep in at night.”

Councillor James point is emphasised by homelessness charity Shelter who made the statement: “Let’s make it clear: living on the streets is not a ‘lifestyle choice’ – it is a sign of failed government policy. No one should be punished for being homeless. Criminalising people for sleeping in tents, and making it an offence for charities to help them, is unacceptable.”

Councillor Kirkham added “I joined the team in Falmouth at midnight. I can safely assure Suella Braverman that sleeping rough (even in a tent) on a cold, very wet night in November is not a ‘lifestyle choice’.

The data from the Count on a single night this year will likely not be released until February next year but Councillors James and Kirkham urge all to remember there will be human stories behind every individual in each town.

If you see someone sleeping rough who needs help please use  Street Link which is directly connected to Cornwall Council’s homelessness outreach workers.