Homelessness in Chelmsford likely to increase over next few months

The number of households living in temporary accommodation such as B&Bs has fallen in Chelmsford since last year, even though more than 1,000 families in Essex became homeless during the first lockdown.

But the next few months during which unemployment has been forecast to increase will prove critical in mitigating the homlessness problem, the leader of Chelmsford Council Stephen Robinson has said.

The total number of households in temporary accommodation at the end of June 2019 sat at 272 – involving 398 children.

A year later between April and June 2020 there were 256 households – encompassing 354 children.

Cllr Robinson has agreed with charities though that many more could find themselves in this situation in the coming months.

The latest official figures from the government have revealed that 1,636 households in Essex were found to be homeless or threatened with homelessness between April and June.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that they were sleeping rough on the street – just that they had no stable accommodation and were forced to seek assistance from their council.

This most commonly happens because of eviction due to rent arrears, but can also be the result of relationship breakdown between partners, domestic abuse, or other violence or harassment.

The number is not as high as it might have been, thanks to Government measures such as the six-month ban on evictions.

It had dropped from 2,003 Essex households who were found to be homeless between January and March, and was down from 1,884 between April and June last year.

Cllr Robinson said: “I’m really pleased with what housing officers have done certainly during lockdown – they have worked well beyond the hours they are paid to work.

“They have put an awful lot of commitment into ensuring we avoid homelessness in the first place and then by finding proper accommodation.

“Every council is concerned about a likely uptick in the amount of homelessness over the next couple of months because of rising unemployment.

“There will sadly be some businesses who feel they just can’t go on anyway.

“Our housing team are standing by to help.”

He said the best way of reducing homelessness was to increase affordable housing provision through the market housing allocations.

But he added that the plans within the Government white paper on housing and the Infrastructure Levy put forward as one of the key changes will result in fewer affordable homes being built.

He said: “The main way we will deliver affordable housing is through market housing development and with developers sticking to the 35 per cent target that we put in the local plan.

“This is why it is very worrying that the government is proposing to relax that in the white paper.

“One of the biggest threats to generating affordable housing is the government planning white paper.”

Other authorities have seen varying degrees in the amount of homelessness in the same period.

Basildon saw the number of households in temporary accommodation increase from 439 to 474, Harlow from 267 to 282, while in Tendring the number of households in temporay accomodation rose from 120 to 143 and Rochford from 65 to 80.

Homelessness charities say the number of people facing homelessness will likely rise as the economic effects of the pandemic are fully felt – particularly during the upcoming second national lockdown.

It is unclear whether or not the evictions ban will be reinstated at this time.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “When coronavirus first struck, there were already too many people without a safe place to call home.

“Families across the country were terrified they would face eviction and homelessness in the middle of a pandemic. We cannot go back to that.

“The evictions ban meant many could stay safe in their homes and there was a national effort to help thousands off the streets.

“With a new national lockdown approaching and Covid cases on the rise, the government must move again to make sure no one is forced from their home this winter by banning evictions nationwide.

“Right now, it’s too dangerous to allow anyone to become homeless. So, as well as preventing evictions, the government must direct councils to provide safe accommodation to anyone who is homeless or faced with the streets.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter