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'Hundreds at risk' as East Devon homeless strategy agreed

More than a third of 16-24-year-olds on the social housing list say they're under threat of losing their home

Hundreds of people in East Devon say that they are at risk of being homeless.

More than a quarter of people of the nearly 4,000 people on the social housing list in East Devon have said that under threat of losing their home, and that number rises to more than a third of 16-24-year-olds.

Nearly half of people also said that their health and wellbeing is being made worse by their current home.

East Devon District Council are signed up to Devon Home Choice, alongside several other councils and Housing Associations, to manage the allocation of social housing for local residents, and a report to the council’s cabinet on Wednesday night said that nearly 4,000 people in the district, the highest in Devon, are registered with the service.

A housing need assessment is completed on registration, and 1,700 of the nearly 4,000 people have a housing need, the report says.

The figures were revealed as a new Homelessness and Rough Sleeper Strategy was adopted by the cabinet, with Cllr Ian Thomas, leader of the council, saying that as the district has the most vibrant economy in Devon, there should be no question that anyone should be forced to be homeless in the district at all.

Of those who have a housing need, 26 per cent said they were at risk of being homeless, with 36.5 per cent of 16-24 year olds at risk.

7.8 per cent of people said that they needed to escape violence or harassment, and 42.6 per cent said their health and/or wellbeing was made worse by their current home.

Another 5.9 per cent of people said that they had to move because their current home is in very poor condition.

The report says: “The reliance on the private rented sector combined with high private rental levels creates an environment where people find it increasingly difficult to afford to rent privately, and existing tenants are placed at increased risk of homelessness.”

Cllr Thomas said: “With where we are, there is no question, homelessness should not be happening.”

Cllr Jill Elson, East Devon’s portfolio holder for Sustainable Homes and Communities, added: “We cannot stand still in helping those who become homeless or become a ‘rough sleeper’. Our aim is to prevent as many as possible from ending up in temporary accommodation or as a rough sleeper.”

She told the cabinet that the council is doing its best to give people a family home. But she added: “Many people may suddenly become homeless or find themselves redundant and without any income coming in, or get themselves into debt, or have no roof over the head. Some young people suddenly get told people don’t they want them to live under their roof anymore. I hear from 18-year-olds who say their parent has got a new partner so there is no room for me.”

Andrew Mitchell, Housing Needs and Strategy Manager, added: “Homelessness is one of the worst life experiences a person or a household can suffer and an effective homelessness strategy can make a massive difference to people experiencing homelessness. It is also a vital social responsibility, which East Devon takes very seriously and, as a housing authority it is the council’s aim to be outstanding at delivering this duty.”

The new strategy has been produced by the council’s Housing Strategy team in consultation with councillors, council staff and external partners and charities who work with people in homeless situations, as well as having involved consultation with former service users in order to gain a clear perspective of experiencing homelessness.

Four key priorities have been identified in the strategy. They are:

  • Maximise prevention activities and outcomes
  • Increase accommodation options
  • Minimise rough sleeping and
  • Improve health and wellbeing

A council spokesman added: “These four priorities link with East Devon’s overarching housing aim – a decent home for all. The council acknowledges that it cannot achieve everything that it would like to achieve alone, and therefore partnership working and a council-wide priority of preventing homelessness are constant themes.”

Mr Mitchell’s report to the cabinet that there had been a decline in the number of homeless acceptances until 2016, then a significant increase back to 2013 levels of 27 a year. He added: “Homeless preventions have reduced over the five year period, although there was an increase in overall activity in 2016-17.”

The number of rough sleepers in East Devon has been kept at a low level, between four and eight a week, he added, but that the levels of rough sleeping increase significantly in the summer months so the verified figures for rough sleepers based on a set date in November does not effectively demonstrate the issue.

The cabinet heard that the new Homelessness Strategy will be a live document and will evolve to reflect and respond to change as require, with an action plan will be produced to implement the strategy.

A working group will be made up of service users, council staff, councillors and colleagues from other organisations and agencies in order to co-ordinate and report on progress against the agreed actions over the period of the strategy.

The council also agreed to work with Devon County Council and agree the themes for a localised investigation and analysis of poverty and related social welfare issues, and report back on the findings.

It comes after a motion was agreed by full council in December that called for the council to  receive a report on the potential impacts on residents in East Devon and the need for further support, for example in supporting the roll-out of Universal Credit, homelessness prevention or for local food banks.

Cllr Cathy Gardner, who proposed the motion, said: “I am really pleased to see this come forward. It is important to get to the bottom to understand where things aren’t quite fine. We need practical actions to come forward as soon as possible.”

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