HOMELESSNESS. For many, the word conjures up stereotypes of beggars sitting by a cash machine or “down and outs” drinking on a bench.
Few consider the many families in crisis, forced to live in refuges and hostels, run down B&Bs or supported tenancies.
Each day another family is about to lose their accommodation through unemployment, domestic abuse, and changes to benefits such as the bedroom tax.
It is said that all of us are just three steps away from homelessness.
For 500 households in Lancashire it is a stark and painful reality.
Since the 60s, when the groundbreaking film Cathy Come Home was first broadcast, various organisations in Lancashire have formed to help people in need.
I would not like to be on the council making these tough decisionsJeff Marsh
But much of this good work is at risk due to a financial crisis.
One of the biggest factors is said to be the cutting of the Supporting People programme. This provided housing related support to help vulnerable groups to live as independently as possible in the community whether in their own homes or in hostels, sheltered housing or other specialised supported housing.
But cash-strapped Lancashire County Council has been forced to cut the “non statutory” part - that is the areas it doesn’t have a legal obligation to fund - as it battles budget cuts.
It was replaced with a streamlined new £3m Prevention and Early Help Fund which will provide £1.25m funding for domestic abuse services, allowing for the continuation of Lancashire’s nine women’s refuges, and annual funding of £1.25m for services for homeless people with complex needs, and £500,000 for crisis support.
LCC is continuing to invest £1.35m funding to meet the housing and support needs of 16 and 17-year-olds and £500,000 transitional funding is also being allocated whilst supported accommodation services for young people who are homeless, or leaving care, are redesigned.
A further £500,000 proposed for crisis support will be used to provide people with furniture, food or fuel to help meet their needs during crisis situations.
Jeff Marsh, chief executive of the Foxton Centre in Preston, pictured, says: “I started working in Preston in 1996 for Barnardos and I saw a vast improvement in that time in terms of the quality of provision for the homeless of all ages - and it was driven by the Supporting People programme, this funding came through LCC and saw a lot of investment in buildings around the city, making sure accommodation was of the right standard, and that services people were getting were of high quality.
“There were proper pathways in place to help people out of homelessness.
“But that seems to have just been dismantled and nothing else concrete is in its place yet.
“I would not like to be on the council making these tough decisions, it must be hard, but I feel no thought has been given to the consequences further down the line – which could cost councils more money in the long run.”
At the same time as the council cuts, changes to Housing Benefits for social housing tenants to bring rates paid in line with Local Housing Allowance rates are expected to have a grave impact on single people under 35 who will only be entitled to the shared room rate at £53.67.
Preston City Council’s housing team is battling to help thousands at risk of losing their home and frequently have to make the difficult decision to turn many of them away and to other services because they have to prioritise families and vulnerable people.
In 2015/6, 2,136 people sought advice on homelessness - of whom 534 were from families with children and 1,602 couples or single people.
But to be officially classed as homeless and entitled to help, strict criteria must be met. Only 101 were officially recorded as homeless.
Of those, 33 were families and 68 were singles or couples without children.
Bev Lyon, senior housing advisory officer at Preston City Council, says: “With an average rent of £80 in Preston you can quickly see how people will be affected who are not in work.”
Another benefit cap reducing all benefits paid to families and single households from November 2016 will see some families’ incomes reduced to £20k per year, including housing costs for rent.
Legislation around homelessness is under review and potentially, cash strapped councils who are already struggling could end up with a statutory duty to prevent people from becoming homeless if 56 days away from losing their home with nowhere to stay.
Bev adds: “Obviously if it does go through it will place added pressure on all local authority resources at time when funding to local government is being reduced.”
Rough sleepers - in figures
Lancashire households accepted as homeless and in priority need of accommodation in 2015/16 according to LCC
Households in temporary accommodation, such as hostels and refuges, in 2015/16
The number of known rough sleepers in Lancashire last autumn.
Service users who accessed Preston’s Foxton Centre in 2015
The number of rough sleepers who visited Foxton for the first time last year
Sofa surfers who accessed the centre
Arrests for vagrancy in Preston since 2010
The percentage of Chorley households presenting as homeless who are single people with no dependants
The percentage of Chorley homeless households with dependent children or who were pregnant
Reasons for homelessness
Reasons given for homelessness by people in Chorley between Oct 2013 and March 2015:
• Parents no longer willing or able to accommodate 22
• Other relatives or friends no longer willing or able to accommodate 8
• Loss of rented or tied accommodation: Reasons other than termination of AST 8
• Loss of rented or tied accommodation: Termination of AST 5
• Non-violent breakdown of relationship with partner 5
• Left prison/on remand 5
• Rent arrears on registered provider dwellings 4
• Arrears on private sector dwellings 4
• Violent breakdown of relationship involving partner 3
• Left hospital 3
• Violent breakdown of relationship involving associated persons 1
• Other forms of violence 1
• Other reason 3