Hidden homelessness is on the increase
9 November 2017
You could be forgiven for thinking homelessness is not a big issue in South Lakeland.
The truth is the number of people needing help to put a roof over their head continues to rise.
Over the past two years we have seen the number of homelessness applications more than double, from 42 to 104.
Our Housing Options Team expects that figure to rise significantly because of changes in the way benefits are paid, a lack of affordable housing and new legislation to be introduced from next April.
The team says there are some big challenges to overcome, not least the unhelpful public perception of what a typical homeless person is.
“Sadly the stereotypical view is of a helpless drunk or drug addict asleep in a doorway, who either can’t or won’t help themselves. In reality the two biggest causes of homelessness are family breakdown or the loss of a tenancy, which could happen to anybody,” said Alan Davis, our Housing Options Manager.
“We are empathetic and supportive, here to help and not to judge. Our role is to help get people back on their feet and, even though housing is a basic need and we have had lots of success stories, we are now under increasing pressure to find alternative accommodation.”
We have a statutory duty to assess homeless applications and then find accommodation, usually in social housing or the private rented sector.
With around 3,200 people currently on the waiting list for social housing in South Lakeland, high private sector rents and many landlords reluctant to offer tenancies to people on benefits, the situation is getting worse.
Town View Fields Hostel in Kendal, which is run by us, has 18 single and family rooms, most of which are now always full.
“Around a quarter of our workload is about helping people to make a homeless application, assessing if they are a priority need or vulnerable for example” added Alan. “What people might not realise is that an awful lot of the team’s work is around prevention and relief of homelessness; stopping someone becoming physically homeless, keeping them where they are or finding alternative accommodation.”
Our preventative work includes liaising with landlords to allow tenants to stay in their accommodation, helping with the payment of deposits and arranging talks in local schools about the harsh reality of homelessness.
Some local authorities do more than others. From April 2018 all councils will have extra responsibilities under the new Homeless Reduction Act to give meaningful support to help resolve and prevent homelessness.
We now plan to introduce outreach appointment sessions in Windermere and Ulverston and hopes to persuade more private landlords to step in and offer accommodation, backed up by incentives and a package of support.
“We expect the number of homeless applications to increase significantly which will create even more pressure to find accommodation. Closer working with private landlords, with a package of support to ensure we try to mitigate as much risk to them as possible, will be crucial in enabling us to help those who need it most,” said Alan.
Private landlords who would like more information on how they can help the homeless, or those at risk of becoming homeless, can contact the Housing Options Team on 01539 733333.
Case study: How support helped a homeless woman to graduate
It is a remarkable story of struggle and determination.
“Flo” is not her real name. The 28 year-old has asked to have her identity protected because of the public stigma surrounding homelessness.
In reality she has nothing to be ashamed of.
She was brought up in South Lakeland, left home at an early age and spent years drifting between shared houses and hospitals.
Only when Flo arrived at Town View Fields Hostel in Kendal, which is run by us, did she begin to get the kind of help and support she really needs.
“I was just a mess when I moved here. I didn’t really speak to the staff, just kept my head down. There was a kind of blackness and I didn’t know who I was,” she said. “Now I know who I am, I want to do things like watch a movie, enjoy hobbies and I want to see people.”
Flo had started a degree course but then spent years stopping and starting her coursework, dipping in and out of her studies. Feeling more settled and supported at Town View Fields Hostel, she not only began studying again but has since graduated.
“It took me seven years to get my degree but I’ve got it, that’s what counts,” she said.
Flo is on the autism spectrum. The diagnosis was only made after she arrived at the hostel. She believes earlier diagnosis would have changed her life.
“Had I been diagnosed when I was at school it would have made a huge difference. It helps to explain the bullying, the problems with relationships, why I couldn’t stay in employment, it could have changed everything,” she said.
Flo is still at the hostel, because there is no suitable permanent accommodation for her in South Lakeland, but her outlook is more positive.
She is looking forward to having a new companion. From next spring an assistance dog, specially trained to help her, will be by her side every day.
Pictured are Hostel Team Leader, Angela Harvey, and Flo.