The Conservatives who control EDDC are taking urgent steps to tackle a growing problem of homelessness – a national issue that is becoming more demanding in East Devon.
A combination of social issues, funding cuts and new legislation mean all councils face greater challenges than before in finding solutions for people who present as homeless.
Now Jill Elson, EDDC’s Cabinet Member for Sustainable Homes and Communities, is taking action to ensure the best possible arrangements are in place to provide suitable accommodation for homeless people, advise them on their needs and support them through what is a tough time for individuals and families.
Among the steps she is putting in place are:
- Creating a new post of Homeless Accommodation Officer
- Recognising the increase in homelessness
- Increasing the supply of temporary accommodation for homeless people
- Updating EDDC’s Homelessness Strategy to meet changing demand
- Responding to changes brought about by the Homelessness reduction Act 2017
- Meeting urgently with local MPs, ahead of the Government’s Green Paper on Housing.
These measures were agreed by a meeting of EDDC’s Cabinet on 6 June and, says Jill Elson, will help ensure that the council maintains its current record of dealing with the homelessness challenge in the most effective way possible.
Jill Elson said: “We wish to ensure that we look after those who present themselves as genuinely homeless. We have had a good record so far in preventing homelessness and in the past have not used much temporary accommodation because we want to offer people more secure housing solutions.
“Many of the new people coming to us are presenting themselves with complex needs and are unable to manage a tenancy without help, advice and most essentially support. Without that support they end up being evicted, which achieves nothing for anyone.
“Many so-called ‘affordable homes’ are being built in flat developments, but this can cause problems when a large number of people are living close together.
“We will need to provide more single person accommodation, either in partnership with others, or from our own Housing Company. If we have to build homes for multiple occupation, we will need to ensure that the people we house have support – perhaps from a resident manager – and also that they get on with one-another”.
“We will need assistance from the other agencies: Devon County Council help for those leaving care and for adults with a support need; Devon Partnership Trust to help those with mental health problems; and the Probation Service with others.
Turning to the financial aspects of managing homelessness, she added that East Devon can no longer expect to have sufficient ‘affordable housing’ provided by developers because many claim that such provision means their developments are not financially viable. Housing Grants are no longer available for councils like EDDC that are considered not in sufficient need compared with other more deprived parts of the country.
And EDDC needs to react to recent legislation like the 2017 Homelessness Act and to future Government policy – for example the contents of an upcoming Green Paper on Housing.
EDDC will therefore need to update its Homelessness Strategy to meet the various challenges ahead, she said. And she called for an urgent meeting with MPs Hugo Swire (East Devon) and Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton).
Jill Elson concluded: “For many years we have quietly but effectively managed homelessness in East Devon. We have refined our approach around early intervention and prevention of homelessness, ensuring applicants are housed in affordable housing that is suitably located and of an adequate size.
“As a result of various factors, homelessness pressures have been increasing. Whilst we have been insulated from some of the impacts seen nationally, we are now seeing an increase in homelessness and rough sleeping locally.
“We need to review our approach to managing homelessness in East Devon. Prevention and early intervention will still be core elements of our approach but, with demand unlikely to reduce in the short-term, we need a new plan for temporary accommodation. We must be able to meet the needs of families and people traumatised by homelessness, many of them demonstrating complex needs beyond not having a home.
“These applicants require empathy and timely advice and information from us to get a roof over their head. Many need to be supported through the process by our staff as they are unable to secure their housing themselves”.