Southend Council seeks to re-home rough sleepers as fears grow that Government funding will stop

Southend Council is trying to re-home as many rough sleepers as possible by appealing for help from private landlords, despite fears government support could soon come to an end.

Labour leader, Councillor Ian Gilbert, is appealing to private landlords to help keep a roof over the heads of rough sleepers after most were moved to emergency accommodation to protect them during lockdown.

However, one of the leading homeless charities has warned that if the Government does not continue to give money to local authorities, many rough sleepers could end up back on the streets.

Mr Gilbert said: “We are asking private property landlords to consider letting their properties to those who are ready to move into more stable accommodation.

“We would be grateful to landlords who would like to join us to help end homelessness in Southend for good, and are offering up-front rent and deposit payments and a dedicated council officer who you can reach directly to discuss any issues with the tenancy.

“The initial response has been encouraging, but the more private landlords who come forward, the more people we can potentially help.”

The government directed all councils to find emergency accommodation for rough sleepers at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

But the charity Crisis has warned that many contracts between councils and hotels are due to end as government funding runs out at the end of June. The organisation says this puts more than 14,500 people across the country at risk of returning to the streets.

The government has said councils must continue to provide accommodation after giving £6.4million to help fund it. Crisis said there has been “no indications at all” that additional funds will be provided.

The charity’s director of policy, Matt Downie, said: “The exceptional arrangements are due to come to an end, because they were exceptional, and there is no plan yet to make sure that every single one of those people is accommodated and that there’s money to deliver it.”

In Southend, Mr Gilbert expressed confidence that they will not have the same issue as some other authorities where contracts are ending. He explained the council had “consciously used smaller B&B’s and local hotels so there was flexibility around our contracts with them”.

However, it remains unclear how the council plans to finance housing for rough sleepers if government money dries up. It is also unclear how this will impact those already on the housing waitlist.

The Southend Conservative group has been urging the council to ensure all rough sleepers are kept off the streets and the party made it a core part of a ten-point plan for the borough’s recovery.

When they published the plan, the administration rejected the majority of suggestions in it.

Conservative councillor Meg Davidson said: “We are delighted to hear of the U-turn by the leader and that the homeless will be kept safe and kept off the streets.”

Mick Ferris

Editor Email: [email protected]