Housing

One in four who go to councils for help with homelessness will be 'turned away' this Christmas

More than 5,500 households face being told there is ‘no room at the inn’ this Christmas because of the housing crisis, The Salvation Army has warned

rough sleeping

Thousands of people could be sleeping rough at Christmas, according to The Salvation Army. Image: born1945 / Flickr

One in four households who turn to their local council for help to avoid homelessness will be told there is nowhere for them to go this Christmas, The Salvation Army has warned.

The homelessness charity predicts 23,500 households in England will be classed as homeless in the last quarter of 2023 based on analysis of government statistics.

But existing legislation means that local authorities only have a duty to find emergency accommodation for people classed as ‘priority need’, which includes people who are vulnerable due to their health, pregnant women or children or teenage care leavers.

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That means an estimated 5,500 homeless households could face sleeping on the streets this Christmas.

The Salvation Army has called for a change in the law to mean anyone who falls into street homelessness is offered temporary and longer-term accommodation and urged government ministers to ensure funding for council homelessness services rises with inflation.

The charity’s warning comes as the government revealed 1,200 homes for rough sleepers will be built or bought to deal with rising homelessness.

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

“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.”

Local authorities are under extreme funding pressures with some councils warning they are facing a social and financial crisis due to the rise in demand for temporary accommodation.

A record-high 104,510 households are living in temporary accommodation in England while councils are also facing extra pressures due to government efforts to clear the asylum claim backlog, as reported by The Big Issue.

Last month more than 100 district councils from across England wrote to chancellor Jeremy Hunt pleading for extra funding to help local authorities deal with the soaring £1.7bn-a-year temporary accommodation bill.

Councillor Stephen Holt, leader of Eastbourne Borough Council, organised an emergency summit alongside the District Councils’ Network which saw 150 councils voice concerns ahead of the letter.

“We will always do everything we can to help the most vulnerable people in Eastbourne, but urgent government intervention is now critical to prevent the most basic frontline services from failing,” said Holt.

“One person sleeping rough is one person too many, but it is currently difficult to see how local authorities can indefinitely maintain the safety net that people at risk of homelessness rely on.”

With the cost of living crisis also still in effect, council homelessness services are already facing greater demand for their services. A total of 298,430 households in England need council support with homelessness in 2022-23, up 6.8% in a year and now 3% higher than before the pandemic, government figures show

The Salvation Army estimates that at least 15,500 homeless households in England will have already been told by their local council that they can’t have emergency temporary accommodation in the first three quarters of 2023.

“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,” said Clifton. 

“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.”

While the Salvation Army is calling for a short-term funding injection to support councils, the charity wants priority need to be scrapped in the long-term as well as a sustained investment in housing stock to remove the pressure on councils.

Father of two, Liam Fletcher needed support from The Salvation Army after his local council told him they had “no obligation to help him”.

The 40 year old, who grew up in care, has been homeless on and off for 15 years and is currently rough sleeping after his relationship broke down.

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. Being homeless has ruined my life.”

As The Salvation Army made its dire warning of a rise in street homelessness, the government announced 1,230 homes will be built or bought to support people with a history of rough sleeping or those at risk of homelessness.

The £148.4m single homelessness accommodation programme funding will give 46 local authorities, housing providers and charities the opportunity to help rough sleepers off the streets. It is part of the £2bn the government has previously announced it will spend on homelessness and rough sleeping over a three-year period.

Homelessness minister Felicity Buchan said funding has been targeted at areas most in need, including £9.9m to Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council, over £6.4m to Leeds County Council, and £5.2m to Manchester Council. 

Worthing Homes in Sussex will receive £4m to deliver 34 homes, communal rooms for group therapy, and a homeless drop-in centre. While The Homeless Action Resource Project in Southend-on-Sea will receive £3.3m to deliver 32 homes by redeveloping and retrofitting existing properties.

“Everyone deserves a safe place to call home. This is why we are so committed to supporting the most vulnerable in our society and helping them off the streets for good,” said Buchan.

“This funding will not only provide housing for rough sleepers but will also give tailored support to help those most in need off the streets, rebuild their lives, and begin to live independently.”

A third of the funding will go to London. Tom Copley, deputy mayor of London for housing and residential development, said: “This will make a real and lasting difference for hundreds of people in our capital.”

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