£6,000 units will "reduce visibility and vulnerability" of rough sleepers
Demand for emergency accommodation in North Devon has doubled since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with an expectation it will increase further.
Jeremy Mann, head of environmental health and housing, told North Devon Council strategy and resources committee meeting that the number of households in emergency accommodation has risen from around 20 to 45 at the height of the increase. He said that while that number has slightly dipped with some having been housed in permanent accommodation, the council is forecasting the demand to rise again once the furlough scheme comes to an end if unemployment levels increase.
The committee unanimously agreed to buy five new temporary accommodation pods for rough sleepers as one of the solutions to tackle homelessness. Each person who uses a pod will receive daily support and this in turn will manage any potential risks such as anti-social behaviour, Mr Mann told the committee. He added: “The clients will be able to access the pods on a short-term basis only whilst clients are assessed and moved through accommodation pathways.”
The pods, which are to be used at night, have access controlled with a coded smart lock. Each £6,000 pod is timber frame and measures 2.4 metres by 1.82 metres. Inside is vinyl flooring, laminate panelling, with a cassette chemical toilet and bed platform. Councillors are recommended to give approval in principal for the purchase, subject to external funding being received and identifying suitable locations for them to be placed.
Benefits of the pods included envisaged cost savings by reducing need for emergency B&B accommodation, reduced visibility and vulnerability of rough sleepers, a fast flexible, innovative solution to meet social need, they provide secure, safe temporary accommodation which benefits well-being and will reduce strain on health and social services, and they present opportunities for collaborative working for public social benefit, the report of Mr Mann added.
“A solution to the challenges for temporary accommodation is the self-contained pods, he said.. "They may benefit some of the group, and they are an option but not a universal solution for all people who are street homeless in our community. There is a continual new demand for the rough sleeping services and that demand is around one-to-two new cases a week.
“The demand has effectively doubled for emergency accommodation during the pandemic. Before March, it was around 20 households, and that peaked at around 45 households. It has dipped below 40 as some moved to permanent, but there has been a marked increase.”
Cllr John Patrinos asked why five pods were being recommended to be purchased and what modelling was being done around the number of homeless on the books and would it increase as furlough was withdrawn and unemployment increases.
Mr Mann said: “The reality is we don’t know who will present as homeless or what their profile is – be it single people or families – so we can’t model the exact needs for those people. We can look at the weeks before but moving forward is hard to model, but we are forecasting for an increase in demand.”
Cllr Malcolm Prowse recommended that the committee give their approval in principal for the purchase of the shelter pods, subject to external funding being received and support such as identifying suitable locations for them to be sited. He said: “This makes so much financial sense as firefighting the problem costs a lot of money and we have tried all sorts of things over the years.”
The committee unanimously approved the purchase as one of the Council’s solutions to bring rough sleepers off the streets and help them to engage with all required services