An article written by Councillor Ryan Fuller, Deputy Executive Leader and Executive Councillor for Housing and Planning.

In late November Huntingdonshire District Council carried out a vital piece of work to get a clearer picture of the current extent of rough sleeping across the district.

As Huntingdonshire is a large rural district, the district council carried out an estimate by working closely with all the agencies that work with those people sleeping rough. This included statutory agencies such as the police, health services and social care, as well as charities, voluntary groups, churches and faith groups.

The information gathered will not only help government understand trends and help inform the development of national policy on tackling rough sleeping, it will also challenge local authorities to look at better ways of dealing with the different problems people face in maintaining suitable accommodation, some which can lead to eviction and subsequent homelessness.

Although from a national and regional perspective the district has a lower than average number of people sleeping rough, the district council is committed to reducing both rough sleeping, and the more wide-ranging issue of homelessness. It is hard at work looking into its root causes and employing a number of preventative measures.

There are many causes of homelessness and sadly, in some situations, it cannot be prevented, and this can be evidenced, in part, by people seen sleeping rough on the streets of our towns. This can be attributed to a number of problems, such as relationship breakdown, debt, employment issues, and health difficulties, sometimes all converging at the same time.

Huntingdonshire District Council is committed to providing the right help and support at the right time, to help prevent individuals and families from losing their home. If tackled early enough many problems can be overcome to help people keep their current home and, if not, provide time in which to find an alternative.

I would encourage anyone faced with the threat of homelessness to seek advice from the district council as soon as possible. Early intervention by the council can often resolve the situation, and other agencies and services involved are able to use their expertise in helping to address specific problems.

The council will also do all it can to provide advice and help for those facing the prospect of having to sleep rough, including making referrals and signposting to partner agencies that are able to provide the specialist support that might be needed. The worry is that when someone ends up sleeping rough, the longer they are on the streets the more difficult they may find it to break the cycle that they find themselves in.

Every homelessness case is a tragedy and I am glad to see the government demonstrating a commitment to help local councils tackle it. In December last year, the Prime Minister unveiled plans for a number of new homelessness prevention schemes, and this has led to the provision of a £50 million funding boost for trailblazing new homelessness prevention schemes across the country, including targeted support for those at risk of rough sleeping.

Along with partner authorities Huntingdonshire District Council has secured £736,000 of this funding for a county-wide Homelessness Trailblazer initiative, which will look to test new, innovative approaches to preventing homelessness across a range of organisations. The partnership will also work with the government’s Department for Communities to build an evidence base as to what are the most successful prevention measures.

I am sure that you don’t need me to tell you that the housing market is broken, and that it is one of the greatest barriers to social progress in Britain today. Whether you are buying or renting, housing is increasingly unaffordable, particularly for ordinary working people who are struggling to get by. With the average home in Huntingdonshire costing almost eight times average earnings, it is understandable that it is difficult to get on to the housing ladder. Subsequently, the proportion of people living in the private rented sector has doubled since 2000, with more than two million working households with below-average incomes spending a third or more of their disposable income on housing.

However, I would add that it is important to recognise that sleeping rough is rarely the result of a housing crisis alone, and I appreciate that many rough sleepers and homeless people often have complex needs, such as mental health difficulties. That is why I am encouraged that the Department of Health has made £40 million available through the Homeless Change and Platform for Life programmes. This will help address mental health issues by providing decent accommodation and health support for homeless people, highlighting the importance of services coming together to help those in need.

As a result of the 2015 Spending Review, the government will be spending over £550 million to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping in England by 2020. In addition to homelessness prevention schemes, such as our own Trailblazer initiative that Huntingdonshire District Council has signed up to, the government announced £100 million of the funding pledged will be used to deliver at least 2,000 low-cost move-on accommodation places. This will enable people leaving hostels and refuges to make a sustainable recovery from a homelessness crisis, and I am hopeful that Huntingdonshire will also benefit from this scheme.

The 2017 Homelessness Reduction Act received royal assent on 27 April this year, and places new duties on councils to support those who are homeless. Councils will legally be required to help those threatened with homelessness within 56 days, or who are already homeless, keep or find a home. Although the Act will not come into force until 2018, as the Executive Councillor for Housing I have already signalled Huntingdonshire District Council’s commitment to tackling this head on and working to reduce homelessness by bidding for an uplift in resources for our housing and homelessness team by a third.

It has long been recognised that early help, support and intervention is key to preventing homelessness, and Huntingdonshire District Council has been successfully proactive in this regard. However, I fervently believe that it is unacceptable that anybody should be faced with the fear of homelessness. Therefore, going forward, it is vitally important that the district council continues to do all it can to play its part in helping the most vulnerable in society get their lives back on track.

Anyone with housing problems, which they believe might lead to them becoming homeless, can contact the council’s Advice and Options team:
Email: housingadvice@huntingdonshire.gov.uk
Phone: 01480 388218

Further information and advice can be found on the Homelessness page of our website.