£2M more needed for the homeless

HORSHAM District Council has had to set aside an additional £2 million to increase its emergency housing stock as more families find themselves homeless.

A ‘sharp and sustained rise in demand for short stay accommodation’ led members to agree to set aside the money at a full council meeting on Wednesday last week.

Last month the number of families in the district living in bed and breakfasts rose to a record high of 31 - more than double the number in September 2010.

The council has a statutory duty to help people in urgent need of housing and until 2010, the 49 homes in the housing stock were sufficient to cope with demand.

But over the last year the council has had to buy six three-bedroom homes, all of which are now occupied. It has also had offers accepted on three more, and the £2 million will go towards buying more homes.

The problem has been exacerbated by the Government’s decision to cap the subsidy paid to councils for housing vulnerable people in bed and breakfasts.

From April 1 this year the Government capped the single room allowance at £138 per week.

Since the cost of accommodating a four person household in bed and breakfast in Horsham can be up to £875 per week, the result of the Government cap could leave HDC out of pocket more than £200,000 a year.

In his report to the council, Ray Dawe, cabinet member of efficiency and taxation said: “It is anticipated that when the economy starts to recover, the demand for temporary housing will reduce and house prices recover.

“At that time, if these properties are no longer required, it is likely the council could then achieve a net profit through their disposal.”

But, in the short term, volunteers who work daily with people facing difficult housing issues have said the problem looks set to get worse.

Captains Ian and Susan Woodgate, leaders of The Salvation Army in Horsham, said: “The Salvation Army continues to seek to serve people, whether those without homes or facing other struggles at this time.

“For us, not just at our drop in centre on a Thursday evening, but also at other times during the week, we continue to meet with those who have no homes; others who are sharing the floor in a mates home; or those who simply cannot see how they can hold onto their home much longer.

“The reality of this problem looks as though at the current it will not get much better, and thus we remain committed to continue to bring some Hope to people no matter what they face and why that might be.”

But as winter draws nearer, rough sleepers can be assured of a bed to sleep in on the coldest nights.

The HDC spokesman added: “The council has a duty to accommodate all rough sleepers in its area if the temperature is forecast to fall below zero degrees for three consecutive nights.

“We have very few rough sleepers in the Horsham district in the winter and in past years we have only ever accommodated one or two people in bed and breakfast under cold weather arrangements.”