The true cost of homelessness in Horsham

While the winter night shelter was housing people who local authorities do not have a statutory duty to help, the cost of housing those ‘in priority need’ rose to £22,000 a month.

Saturday, 30th March 2013, 10:00 am
JPCT 130312 Park North, Hosham District Council office. Photo by Derek Martin

Compared with other towns, the homelessness problem in the Horsham district is small, but it still cost Horsham District Council between £16,000 and £22,000 a month during winter to house vulnerable homeless people in bed and breakfast accommodation.

A spokesman for HDC said: “The demand for social housing significantly outstrips its availability in the Horsham district and when a duty is owed and permanent accommodation is not available the council provides or sources temporary accommodation.

“When there are no other options available this includes bed and breakfast accommodation.

“The council currently has over 1,200 households on its register with either a desire or need for social housing. Almost half of these are in housing or homeless need and of these there are currently 89 homeless and in priority need.

“Of these, nine are homeless at home - they are living with friends or relatives - 60 are in temporary accommodation and 20 are in bed and breakfast accommodation.

“Of the 20 in bed and breakfast accommodation, 14 are childless households but six households have dependant children.”

The gross B&B cost to the council in December was £21,000 of which £12,000 was recovered through Local Housing Allowance. In January the cost was just over £17,000 of which over £10,000 was recovered. For February B&B costs were closer to £22,000 of which about £14,000 will be recovered.

The council has access to housing association accommodation and 60 properties of its own stock.

Although this can be used for emergency housing and is a way to generate rental income, it is not the most efficient method because it is not flexible and there is a financial risk attached to it.

The spokesman said: “The council is no longer a stock holding authority and cannot use temporary accommodation to provide secure tenancies.

“This means that if a significant number of housing association properties become available for let or re-let at the same time, the council would be left with a number of properties which it has purchased on the open market which it could not let other for short stay purposes.

“Not only would it be servicing the borrowing repayments on these properties without any income from the properties, but given that there are over 1,200 households on the housing register that are seeking rented accommodation at affordable rates, this would be illogical.

“The buying and selling of houses is not a quick transaction and it has proved impossible to flex the council’s temporary accommodation capacity at a speed that can respond exactly to the number of priority acceptances the council makes, thus the ongoing reliance on bed and breakfasts.”

Hazel Lamb, project co-ordinator of the Horsham Churches Together winter night shelter and retired social worker of 40 years, said: “The council is between a rock and a hard place.

“The legislation is not 100 per cent clear and the difficulty arises when there is discretion. Who they define as ‘in priority need’ is down to discretion.

“We had a friendly relationship with the council. They were concerned about the level of risk involved in the shelter and they were right to be worried.

“We had no incidents of violence and it’s a risky place of work. They were concerned for our volunteers.

“Every time we asked for help, they gave it.

“Everyone involved in (helping the homeless) is trying to do their best to help people and they are all doing it.”