Thursday, 24 November 2011

Homelessness report has a much bigger story to tell

Christmas must be coming – because interest in homelessness is gathering momentum.
It's even on the agenda in Boston – at tonight’s meeting of the borough’s Corporate and Community Committee.
The committee asked for the discussion, and several speakers will ‘give evidence’  so members can discuss the issues and examine areas for future consideration - including Centrepoint Outreach, the Crime Reduction Initiative and Axiom Housing. A summary about homelessness from Boston Mayflower will also be presented.
The debate follows a row earlier this year between the council and Centrepoint, who accused the borough of refusing to recognise the "hidden" homeless.
The charity said they helped about 40 homeless people each month, but the council's official figures were no more than 12  - based on the government's definition of homelessness, which says “rough sleeping” is people sleeping out in the open.
Centrepoint said that many homeless people remained hidden at night for safety, and therefore eluded the count.
Certainly, there are plenty of figures to go at on tonight’s agenda – including many that are completely unrelated to homelessness – but which paint a worrying picture of Boston in the future.
These include projections that the number of married couples will decline by 800 between 2001 and 2033 – from 12,000 to 11,200 – whilst the number of couples living together will rise from 2,150 to 3,800, and the number of lone parent families will increase from 1,850 to 3,000.
Although this does not bear directly on homelessness, it shows the apparently irresistible decline in family life –  an issue which many people feel needs addressing independently.
There are a larger number of houses in multiple occupation than we would have thought – a total of 460 - and also a large number of vacant dwellings that might be used to ease homelessness … including 137 owned by social landlords and 48 belonging to other public sector organisations.
And again, a large number of the borough’s 28,237 houses are deemed to be not decent – 8,100 - or are thought to be hazardous - 5,650.
A total of 4,210 households are in fuel poverty - which exists if more than 10% of the occupants’ net household income needs to be spent to provide adequate warmth and hot water.
It’s calculated that over the next 20 years or so the borough will need between 220 and 255 new dwellings a year - of which at least half will need to be affordable.
When the report eventually gets to the issue of rough sleeping it says that the Crime Reduction Initiative had “reconnected” 80 migrant rough sleepers as at November 14th - and a multi agency meeting on November 8th agreed on a current figure of 18.
Between April 2010 and March 2011 the borough’s Housing Department helped  in 177 homelessness cases.
Oddly enough, for a report designed to help councillors address the issue of homelessness, the details have more to say about wider social problems facing Boston in the years ahead.
Whilst we are not denying that homelessness is an important issue that must be addressed, the decline of the borough’s social infrastructure, problems with existing housing, and the need for a high level of house building which also include a high level of affordability, almost demands a separate debate in itself.
If you want to read the report in full, you will find it by clicking here and then following the link to tonight’s Corporate and Community Committee agenda. Item 5.

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