Homelessness in Waltham Forest double national average as council backs new strategy

Homelessness in Waltham Forest is double the national average, local authority data has revealed.

Nine in every 1,000 borough residents are classed as homeless in 2022 which equates to around 2,505 people, or 0.9 per cent of the borough’s population of 278,400.

While it is lower than the London average of 1.7 per cent, it is double the national rate of 0.45 per cent.

In a bid to tackle the issue, senior councillors backed a long-term strategy at a cabinet meeting on Thursday, which is set to be approved at a full council meeting in April.

Ahsan Khan, the council’s cabinet member for housing, described the housing crisis in the borough as “really challenging”.

He said the council had received weekly emails from residents who had been evicted from private housing and ended up in temporary accommodation, such as hotels.

The council’s multi-pronged strategy has the long-term goal of preventing homelessness and rough sleeping so they become “rare, brief and non-recurrent”.

On a more ‘intermediate’ level, the authority intends to improve early intervention and support residents in temporary accommodation in finding “long-term homes”.

Research from Groundswell and Trust for London revealed that 67 per cent of people in temporary accommodation were facing challenges with their mental health.

Going forward, the authority will work on increasing the supply of “suitable” social housing.

The authority will also “explore further joint ventures” and look into ways of maximising social lettings in new builds.

Coinciding with the rising rate of homelessness, affordability in the northeast London borough has substantially worsened.

House prices have jumped by 118 per cent in the last ten years, while local wages have “not kept pace,” the council says.

In 2002, Waltham Forest was the fourth most affordable borough in the capital. In 2022, it ranked fourteenth.

On top of improving record-keeping for vulnerable tenants and putting together a new team of tenants’ rights officers, the council will work with private households before they “reach a point of crisis”.

Early prevention will be its priority, with a council officer saying in a report: “Prevention is far more cost effective than the relief of homelessness – enabling limited council resources to go further.”

Though the number of rough sleepers in the capital dropped in 2021/22, it jumped by a staggering 444 per cent in Waltham Forest.

A total of 27 people were seen sleeping on the streets in autumn 2022, up from a mere five in autumn 2021.

The definition of homelessness extends beyond physically being without a home, and council assessments include people at risk of losing their homes.

A total of 1,757 households in the borough were ‘owed a duty’ by the council under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, meaning the authority was obliged to prevent them from becoming homeless or to help them find a home.

At a rate of 16.9 households per 1,000, those numbers are significantly above the national average – 11.7 per 1,000 – and London average of 14.7.

Just shy of one-third of those were black, Caribbean, African or Black-British people – despite making up only 15 per cent of the borough’s population – and 43 per cent were aged between 18 and 34.

Drawing on more recent data, London Councils, which represents the 32 local authorities that comprise the capital, estimated in 2023 that one in every 50 Londoners is homeless.

The Waltham Forest homelessness scheme is expected to be approved at a full council meeting on April 25.

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Sebastian Mann

Local democracy reporter