Homeless problem grows in Ashfield as cuts bite hard

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THINK of a homeless person and the image most of us will picture is something along the lines of an old tramp with dirty clothes and a hole in his boot.

But the reality in these difficult economic conditions is much more complicated than that.

Ashfield District Council is finding that more people from across all aspects of society are finding themselves being made homeless.

As the district’s Citizens Advice Bureau told Chad earlier this month, financial hardship is affecting more people, and one of the consequences of this, and of other issues such as bereavement or family separation, is that more residents are finding themselves without a roof over their heads.

Between October and December 2010, 253 people came to the council for help because they were homeless.

But over the same period in 2011, that figure rose to 298 - an increase of 18 per cent.

This increase, and future increases, have been predicted by the council, which has been reviewing the issue through its Scrutiny Panel in order to present recommendations on how to reduce the problem and also to help with the development of the authority’s new Homelessness Strategy for 2012-15.

The reasons behind the increases are many and complicated, but mostly boil down to a lack of money, caused by a number of factors including cuts by Nottinghamshire County Council to the Supporting People budget, which helps fund local charities and service providers, and reductions in local housing allowance benefit.

The cuts to Local Housing Allowance is one of the biggest issues facing vulnerable people in society, said Coun David Shaw, the chair of the Scrutiny Panel.

Losing more than £100 a month in the benefit will mean that people will struggle to pay their rent or other bills, particularly if rents are not reduced, too.

“We take that money away and the decision will be ‘do we feed the kids or heat the house’,” he said.

Said Coun Steven Carroll, portfolio member for housing: “One of my concerns is that currently housing benefit is paid directly to the landlords.

“They are talking about it going to the tenant and there will be a juggling act for them then and some people just can’t manage money.”

The cuts may also mean that people can no longer afford the houses they are living in, will get into debt and then may become homeless.

Ashfield District Council and Ashfield Homes, the company that manages its housing stock, offer services to help prevent people from being made homeless, as well as helping those who are homeless.

The new Homefinder choice-based lettings scheme launched in partnership with Mansfield District Council is changing the way social housing, private rented properties and properties available for shared ownership are made available.

The bond guarantee scheme enables people to access the private rented sector even if they do not have the required deposit for a property, either loaning the bond needed, or by reassuring landlords that that money is available to them if required at the end of a tenancy.

Meanwhile, tenancy support services, a sanctuary scheme for victims of domestic violence and funding to debt advice services, such as the CAB, also help to prevent homelessness, but these are also being put under pressure due to funding cuts to the Supporting People budget and increased need.

Coun Carroll said that the effects of the austerity measures being put in place nationally and locally are affecting the poorest people in society.

“They are absolutely hitting the most vulnerable people and its unfair because it’s putting a lot of pressure on the districts,” he said.

“Our council is having to step in but should we be stepping in and plugging that gap that the county council should be funding.

“We cannot do everything.”

Recommendations made by the Scrutiny Panel include lobbying the Housing Minister and county council regarding the impact of cuts, and to look into developing a temporary night shelter and soup kitchen in Ashfield over the next Christmas period.

They will shortly be considered by the Cabinet, but whatever decisions are made, it is clear that the challenge of dealing with homelessness is not going to go away.