Today very sad figures were published showing that the numbers of people sleeping rough are up 31% since 2010: Communities and Local Government department figures show the number of rough sleepers in a single-night snapshot in autumn 2012 was 2,309 up from 1,768 in autumn 2010.
Reading Borough's figures have actually fallen in that time to an average of 4 per night (it was 6)*. For me that is still too high, but given the circumstances it's a huge achievement for our town, and reflects our ambition to be a civilised place to live.
So what is different?
Reading is not bucking the trend in terms of pressure on housing - I would argue pressure on Reading's housing is worse than many many other parts of the country. It's not even bucking the trend in terms of people newly arriving on the streets as much. I don't know how long this defiance of the national picture can continue. Reading as a town can only do so much before the visible sign of this government's failure on housing and welfare becomes more people under blankets.
I believe (and have spoken at national events regarding this) that the reason we have been able to do this so far is because of the approach we are taking as a town.
Political leadership from councillors goes some way of course (and it helps that the Labour group committed to a long term preventative approach when we regained control in 2011). But the professionalism and dedication of both the council's housing team and the charities who work with those at risk of sleeping rough is key.
I have blogged a number of times about the homeless pathways approach and it is something that is everyone who works with rough sleepers in Reading I talk to cites the importance of the weekly meetings between all the agencies, the coordination and cooperation to help individuals rather than passing 'cases' around.
I only hope that this will continue but I am genuinely concerned about what is to come - I fear it will get worse.
If you want to help I blogged on that here
* These are the independently monitored figures by St Mungos. There are far more people 'insecurely housed' and in need of food parcels and other support of course.