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‘People will die because of this’: Devon County Council considers axing £1.5m homelessness prevention funding

Local services and charities have pleaded with the council not to scrap homelessness prevention funding, warning it will see them pay more in the long run

Devon County Council is considering scrapping homelessness prevention funding

Devon County Council said it cannot afford to keep funding homelessness prevention services as councillors search for £45million in savings. Image: Lewis Clarke / Wikimedia Commons

Devon County Council has been warned scrapping £1.5 million of homelessness prevention funding will lead to surging numbers of people on the streets.

The local authority announced a consultation on whether to axe the funding last month after saying it could no longer afford to pay for services outside its statutory adult social care responsibilities. The consultation is set to run until April 19.

The move, which could see five hostels across Devon forced to close according to the council’s own impact assessment, has been strongly opposed by local services. Earlier this week, an open letter from Exeter Homelessness Forum called on Devon MPs to intervene and warned scrapping the funding would lead to a “homelessness crisis”.

“We’re horrified at the widespread human suffering this could cause and are urgently considering how we can support all those who are forced onto the streets as a result,” said Peter Stephenson, chair of the forum and the director of Exeter homelessness charity St Petrock’s said. 

YMCA Exeter is one of the service providers that stands to be affected by the cuts and will lose £157,000 in funding if they go ahead. Si Johns, YMCA Exeter’s joint-chief executive, told The Big Issue the organisation would have to consider closing its hostel and shelve plans to create affordable homes for young people experiencing homelessness

“It’s going to have a massive effect on us,” said Johns. “It’s not just going to slow down the provision of affordable accommodation, it’s going to increase the housing crisis and people will unfortunately die.

“At the end of the day that is the worst outcome, but when we interview the young people we work with, the majority of them say: ‘If I didn’t come here, I don’t know what would happen to me, I would probably be dead.

“We deal with a number of suicide attempts each year and if we’re not here these things go ahead. It’s just horrible to think we will struggle to continue.”

YMCA Exeter said the loss of homelessness prevention funding could lead to a bigger bill down the line.

The group estimates that the council could end up paying £1.8 million a year in combined housing benefit and adult social care costs.

Johns added: “This is clearly just a financial decision and that financial argument is really clear. There’s a reason why the English language has sayings like: ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ or ‘prevention is better than cure’.

“These things have been in our language because they are actually correct. If you stop something from happening years before it happens it saves a huge amount of money.”

Currently the five providers covered by the homelessness prevention contract support around 250 people with 113 bed spaces in hostels and a further 132 people receiving floating support.

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The open letter from providers said removing that framework will lead to an “inevitable and significant increase in homelessness and rough sleeping” and added that others who are “hidden from view” are “likely to end up on the streets”.

“We see the results of this on our streets every single day,” said Stephenson. “That the county council now proposes to axe the remainder of homeless support is unthinkable. What those in national and local government fail to acknowledge – and this has been the case as long as I can remember – is that so-called savings like this only cause much greater costs to pop up elsewhere in overstretched police, ambulance and mental health services.

“Again, we already see the results of this on our streets, too often with tragic consequences. Are councillors really serious about making this much, much worse, along with all the human hardship?”

Ben Bradshaw, the Labour MP for Exeter, said he was “extremely concerned” and “alarmed” by the proposed cuts while Richard Foord, the Tiverton and Honiton MP, called the move “short-sighted”.

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A Devon County Council spokesperson told The Big Issue that it will look to continue to support vulnerable children and adults through its statutory responsibilities.

The local authority is reassessing all funding commitments in an effort to find £45m worth of savings.

“We’ve been able to help fund this support service in the past, even though it falls outside our statutory adult social care responsibilities,” said a Devon County Council spokesperson.

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“Our proposal to stop our contributions to this contract, while put forward with reluctance, would, if adopted, allow us instead to target our scarce resources to support growing numbers of vulnerable adults who are eligible for social care support.

“No decisions have been taken, and won’t until we’ve concluded our consultation and considered all responses.”

The consultation on whether the homelessness prevention funding can continue is running until April 19.

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