Official figures hide true scale of homelessness in the North East

The true scale of homelessness in the North East is much higher than official figures show, a report by a leading think tank argues today.

Official figures identify only a fraction of homeless households, according to IPPR North.

But others are forced to live in temporary accommodation including privately-run hostels which might lack heating, proper sanitation or security – and where tenants risk being abused or exploited by landlords, or even forced to carry out unpaid work to avoid being evicted.

The report is based partly on an earlier study by the North East Regional Homelessness Group which involves 12 local authorities in the region as well as community groups.

Official figures show that 44 households were officially accepted as homeless by Newcastle City Council over three months. This means the council accepted it was under a legal duty to provide them with accommodation.

In County Durham the figure was 62 households, in Northumberland it was 48, in Gateshead it was 39, in Sunderland it was 25, in North Tyneside it was 42 and in South Tyneside it was also 42.

But many people who have no permanent home are excluded from the figures because they are not classed as being in “priority need”. Typically, this will mean that they are 18 or older and do not have children.

They may be pushed into bed and breakfast accommodation or shared accommodation living with strangers.

The true scale of the problem is unknown. A report produced by the North East Homelessness Think Tank highlights the fact that local authorities are not expected to maintain figures for people in this situation, or track what happens to them.

But IPPR North argues that official figures “only identify a fraction” of households in temporary accommodation.

The report warns:

“Research undertaken in the North East region of England has detailed unacceptable standards in various aspects of premises management, including poor security and poor buildings maintenance, shower and toilet facilities being out of order for long periods of time, poor heating, and repeated incidents of drug-related violence on the premises.

“The research also identified widespread abusive management practice, including tenants having their cash cards and benefits books confiscated by proprietors, being forced to share rooms with strangers, being locked out of the premises for long periods, and being charged for services which were not provided.”

Research by the North East Regional Homelessness Group also found examples of people being required to carry out unpaid work for landlords under threat of eviction, sexual abuse and exploitation of vulnerable residents and people being locked out of their accommodation from early morning until late evening.

Housing consultant Sheila Spencer, one of the North East Homelessness Think Tank’s researchers, said:

“Generally speaking the very worst accommodation is occupied by people who have no choice but to be there.

“And some of it is absolutely appalling. You would be horrified by what goes on in some places.”

But the people affected often receive very little help, she said.

“There is a complete lack of support to help people get out of that situation, or to show them how to get drug or alcohol services.”

The North East Homelessness Think Tank was trying to persuade the Government and local authorities to collect more data about single homeless people, she said.

“We need to know how many are living in the worst situations.”

Bill Davies, IPPR North Research Fellow, said:

“There is very little good statistical data for the hidden homeless. Limited research has been conducted on them and their precarious lives go largely unrecorded by research organisations or public authorities.

“As a hidden population, their numbers are difficult to estimate but the scale of the problem is likely to be substantial.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  11 Dec 2014

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