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No room for homeless at the councilrun inn, Salvation Army reports

01 December 2023

Alamy

Homeless people sleep in front of an empty shop in Reagent Street, in central London, last week

Homeless people sleep in front of an empty shop in Reagent Street, in central London, last week

ONE in four people at risk of homelessness who turn to their local council for help will be turned away this Christmas, the Salvation Army says.

Legislation requires local authorities to find emergency accommodation for those who are classed as having a “priority need”, such as pregnant women, children, teenage care-leavers, those vulnerable because of a disability, and those at risk of domestic abuse; but people who fall outside these categories are turned away.

Local authorities are struggling under reduced budgets to meet the need for emergency and temporary housing. Last month, councils pleaded with the Government for emergency funding to help with the growing crisis in temporary housing. More than 100,000 households are currently living temporarily in B&B and hotel rooms, which cost councils about £1.7 billion a year. That figure has risen ten per cent in one year.

The Salvation Army is calling for the law to be changed to ensure that anyone living on the streets is offered temporary accommodation. Government funding for local authorities must increase in line with inflation if it is to keep thousands of people off the streets this winter, it says.

On the basis of its analysis of government homelessness figures, the charity predicted that 23,500 households in England would be classed as homeless by the end of this year. But, as one quarter of those were not eligible for local-authority support, 5500 homeless households would have nowhere to go this Christmas.

“Everyone deserves a decent place to stay, especially at Christmas, but, for thousands of people, ‘there is no room at the inn,’” John Clifton, who runs a Salvation Army day centre for rough-sleepers in Blackpool, said.

“Being homeless during the season of comfort and joy makes terrible and dangerous living conditions feel even worse. Thousands are facing an unhappy Christmas out on the streets without shelter, sanitation, or privacy, and are at risk of illness, injury, and early death, because homelessness laws don’t consider their situation to be desperate enough.

“We know local authorities are really struggling with the rise in homelessness, and have limited resources, but, sadly, without their help, there is often no other option for thousands of people but the streets. Last Christmas, the Prime Minister made substantial funds available to address rough sleeping, but it’s even worse this year. His good intentions have been severely undermined by a lack of affordable housing, and a rise in inflation, which has fuelled homelessness and put huge pressure on local-authority funds and resources.

“Up and down the country, people who are homeless come to us, hungry, cold, and scared. They are not merely at the back of the queue for a place to live, but, under the current homelessness system, they are not even able to join the queue. The measures taken by the Government to house people forced to sleep rough during the pandemic show what’s possible in a crisis. People sleeping rough in freezing weather is surely a crisis.”

One man who was turned away by his local council is Liam Fletcher, who is 40 and has been homeless for periods over the past 15 years. He is currently sleeping rough again, after a relationship breakdown. He is receiving some support from the Salvation Army.

Mr Fletcher said: “I’d been pinning all my hopes on the call to the council’s housing team, but I’m still on the streets. I can’t cope much longer with the situation; it is majorly affecting my health. It’s cold at night — freezing. I don’t sleep in case I’m robbed, and I’ve ended up walking all night, and then I sat outside the Salvation Army until it opened.

“Sleeping on the streets, I’ve had everything robbed from me, even the trainers from my feet. I spent two days barefoot before the Salvation Army gave me some trainers, and they helped me when I needed food.

“Being homeless has ruined my life; I’ve lost everything I own. I can’t see my kids, and I’ve got no money, and nowhere to stay where they live. I last saw them in December last year, but not at Christmas, and that was a killer. It’s bringing me right down, and, right now, I am at the lowest point I could ever be. The only reason I haven’t ended my life is that my dad died when I was a child, and I could never do that to my children.”

Last year, the Prime Minister said that he was determined to end rough sleeping. But, in the first three-quarters of this year, at least 15,500 households have been turned away from temporary accommodation by their local council.

The Salvation Army reports increasing demand for its outreach and drop-in services, which offer hot food, warm clothing, blankets, first aid, and washing facilities.

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