Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
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Blears - help for those escaping gang crime

Blears - help for those escaping gang crime

COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT News Release (022) issued by COI News Distribution Service. 2 February 2009

A new scheme to provide safe accommodation for people at serious risk of violence associated with gang or weapon crime will begin this month in Southwark.

Funded jointly by the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Metropolitan police Southwark Council's new initiative 'SERVE' - Southwark Rehousing Victims of Violence Enterprise - will provide properties across London and the South East through an innovative agreement between the Council and a number of registered social landlords. If successful Communities Secretary Hazel Blears wants to see the model rolled out to other gang hot spots around England.

People using the SERVE scheme will be in danger for a variety of reasons - they may be at risk of violence or retribution from a gang because they are, or know, a victim or suspect of gang crime. A young person might be resisting the efforts of gang members to recruit them as a new member, resulting in threats to them and their family. Crucially, witnesses, and often some of their friends and family members, will be able to move to a safe place to enable them to testify in court.

SERVE will mean people who are in danger in and around their home can move into a safe property in a different area for up to 12 weeks. During their stay the Council and its partners will help them to plan their next steps and secure long term housing.

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said:

"The misery and intimidation inflicted by gangs can destroy the lives of individuals, families and whole communities. Young people either resisting pressure to join a gang or attempting to leave the gang may face threats to them and their family but these safe houses will provide refuge and respite for those in need."

Gang related danger is a relatively new but frightening addition to the challenges around housing young people. In order to help local areas respond to this issue Communities and Local Government has been working with Centrepoint and YMCA England to ensure that practical information is available to local authorities including case studies of good work underway - e.g. this scheme in Southwark - as well as links to further resources. This has been drawn together into a new section of the New Youth Homelessness website which will go live next month.

Councillor Paul Kyriacou Southwark Council Executive Member for Community Safety said:

"Our housing department is seeing an increasing number of young people, their friends and families who are afraid for their lives because of gang violence and we needed to develop a solution that could get people away to safety straight away. Many people do not qualify for witness protection services and when they do a move is often not possible for several weeks. Through SERVE we will be able to move people within a maximum of 14 days."

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