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City's homeless crisis is getting worse
Figures seen by The Argus have revealed the growing problem of homelessness in Brighton and Hove.
Reporter Michael Davies took a closer look at the issue...
Housing boss Andy Winter recently warned that tents on Brighton’s seafront are a visual reminder the city’s growing homelessness problem.
The Brighton Housing Trust chief executive was unsurprised when people pitched up on Max Miller Walk above Madeira Drive – adding in the last year that homelessness has got “much, much worse”.
Now figures seen by The Argus show that Brighton and Hove City Council spent nearly £7 million more tackling the problem last year, compared to 2011.
In 2013/14 the authority spent £20,379,324 on services which deal with homelessness, including £6,227,572 towards people’s rent payments.
In comparison in 2011 the council spent more than £13 million on homelessness services, with more than £4 million of that helping people to pay their rents.
Council figures show homelessness in the city has increased 35 per cent in the last two years, with many people evicted by family or friends (37 per cent) or losing their private rented housing (33 per cent).
Nearly two thirds of all homeless cases dealt with by the council involve families either with children or a pregnant family member.
Since 2010 the number of households being placed in temporary accommodation has increased four-fold from 316 to nearly 1,200 this year.
A housing assessment carried out by the council into affordable housing need found that 88,000 households in Brighton and Hove – 72 per cent of all families – cannot afford market housing prices without having to spend exceedingly high levels of their income or relying on subsidies.
National homelessness charity Shelter said rising costs of housing were also a major factor when it came to tackling homelessness and identified Brighton and Hove as one of the places most likely to suffer from a lack of affordable housing.
Its figures show that average wages for the city are £28,240 a year and a family would need an income of at least £42,000 to afford housing.
The charity said the problem is not isolated to Brighton and Hove.
It said: “Worryingly, there is not a single area in the whole country where wage and house price inflation have remained aligned.
“The impact of the housing shortage has been widespread, with the latest census showing a drop in home ownership in England for the first time since records began.”
The charity’s chief executive Campbell Robb said he was seeing rises in the number of families in temporary accommodation for longer periods as councils struggled to house them.
He said: “Behind these figures are homeless families trapped in temporary accommodation for months or sometimes years, with no chance to put down roots or bring up their children in a stable home.
“More and more of us are finding out that it just takes one thing like a cut in hours or sudden illness to tip the spiral that ends in homelessness. It’s a sadly predictable result of soaring rents, the rising cost of living and continued cuts to housing benefit.
“Our welfare system must be fair, but these figures show that cuts to our housing safety net are simply a false economy, leaving more families stuck in emergency accommodation like bed and breakfasts, while the cost to the public purse soars.
“The only way to bring down these costs is to protect the safety net that stops more of us spiralling down into homelessness and to build the affordable homes we desperately need.”
Opposition councillors in Brighton and Hove said the rising figures showed a perfect storm of a severe housing crisis coupled with welfare reforms that were putting extra pressure on family finances.
Councillor Chaun Wilson, Labour spokesperson for housing, said: “These figures clearly show the growing costs and long term impact the housing crisis is having.
“Exacerbated by the welfare reforms introduced by the Conservative led Coalition Government, the last three years have seen homelessness increase significantly in the city, and places the local authority under even greater pressure to meet the housing needs of residents.
“With the largest private rented sector outside of London, it is no surprise that we increasingly look to private landlords to access accommodation for those in need and vital that we look to ensure that in future private tenants are offered greater stability, security and standards than at present.”
Fellow Labour councillor Emma Daniel, who has been focusing on the issue of homelessness in the city, said: “There is also a very real human cost here.
“I spoke to a rough sleeper with treatable leg ulcers who was unable to receive the simple treatment from a hospital because he has no accommodation to return to afterwards. He risks losing his leg if the treatment is delayed.
“Cases such as this underline why we as a city need to get to grips with ending homelessness.”
A council report on the city’s housing needs showed that Brighton and Hove has a population of 273,369 residents living in 121,540 homes, making the city the sixth most densely populated area in the South East.
It also highlighted areas of overcrowding in some parts of the city, particularly in the private rented sector.
The report also found that Brighton and Hove has one of the highest average house prices outside London and is one of the top 10 most expensive places in the country to buy a house, with rents far above the rates of Housing Benefit Allowance.
Council officers found there has also been an increase in the number of households accepted as homeless and in priority need who needed to be put in temporary accommodation.
Conservative spokesman for housing on Brighton and Hove City Council Garry Peltzer Dunn said a housing shortage was one of the main reasons for the rise in homelessness.
He said: “The fundamental problem in Brighton and Hove is a shortage of housing which is driving up costs in all sectors.
“This feeds through to the huge increase in the size of the council housing waiting list we have seen over the last three years.
“The main cause of homelessness remains eviction from private rented housing and the increase over the last few years may well reflect rising rent levels across the city.
“However, during the last year homelessness appears to be levelling out and at no point has it gone above the high point seen in 2005.
“However the bottom line is that not enough homes are being built in the city to meet the demand and until that is addressed we will continue to see these problems.”
A council spokesman said money spent also included services like the traveller service, which he said was likely to inflate the figures.
He claimed the bulk of payments for statutory homelessness and on hostels for temporary accommodation was offset by rent income from the temporary housing stock.
Councillor Bill Randall, chairman of the council’s housing committee, said: “Tackling homelessness is a priority we take very seriously.
“The reasons for people being homeless vary enormously from a relationship breakup to drug and alcohol use and the increasing costs of private accommodation, which is the leading cause of homelessness.
“We are determined to help rough sleepers and work hard with our city partners to deliver pioneering services like the No Second Night Out initiative and pop-up homeless hubs.”