Southend Council finds accommodation for rough sleepers

Almost 50 rough sleepers rescued from the streets of Southend have been given permanent accommodation and the council is set to receive more financial support from the Government.

Southend Council was given £370,000 from central Government when the coronavirus lockdown came into force in March so that rough sleepers could be housed in temporary accommodation.

Since then, the authority has managed to put a roof over the heads of 138 people and 48 of those have been given permanent accommodation.

There were fears that 90 remaining in temporary accommodation could be forced back onto the streets if Government funding dried up but Westminster announced on Wednesday that councils could expect a further share of £105million.

The extra money will help pay for any additional rooms that are needed, as well as deposits for housing.

The council is yet to be told how much money it will receive but council leader, Councillor Ian Gilbert, welcomed the extra funding and said now is the time to make the accommodation permanent for all those still living in hotels and B&Bs.

He said: “It is time to take the progress that has been made and make it a permanent by offering each individual a housing situation and support system that is suitable to their needs so they can turn their lives around.

“Some of the rough sleepers we have accommodated are what we call ‘entrenched rough sleepers’, people who have been living on the streets for years. The fact they agreed for their health and that of others, to accept accommodation and now want to make that move a permanent one is a good sign of change.”

The council has been working closely with several private landlords across the borough to find permanent housing for rough sleepers and it is continuing to appeal for more to come forward.

However, there are concerns that when the government’s ban on evictions it lifted in August, there will be a fresh spike in homelessness.

Jackie Bliss, the chief executive of Harp, Southend’s leading homelessness charity, said: “The lifting of government restrictions on evictions expected in August is likely to mean that more people will need Harp’s support.

“We are also concerned that the economic impact from Covid-19 is likely to result in increased levels of homelessness in the coming months and, possibly, years.

“It is, therefore, imperative that adequate funding continues to be made available by central government to address the likely influx of new people to the streets, and that the systemic problems which in the past have contributed towards homelessness are now addressed.

“These include the chronic and acute lack of genuinely affordable housing available for social rent, and the unrealistically low Local Housing Allowance rate set within Universal Credit.”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter