Council Leader praises stunning homeless prevention results
The team has achieved a 53% reduction in homeless presentations and a 33% reduction in the use of temporary accommodation since their creation in June 2011.
Speaking at the Highland Homelessness conference in Nairn today (Wednesday) Councillor Hendry revealed that the team has worked with 4,269 households, recording a 65% “success” rate in terms of homeless presentations prevented.
Savings were now funding a new supply of tailor-made council houses to meet temporary accommodation needs and the Council hoped to build an additional 200 homes by 2017.
He said: “Homelessness is mainly a product of a shortage of suitable, affordable housing. We have always argued that we need to build more houses in the Highlands to address homelessness. That is why we have an ambitious programme of Council house building. We are well on track to meet our target of building 688 new council houses by 2017.
“The Council has also committed to using the savings in temporary accommodation costs to fund new supply, which will increase our ability to meet temporary accommodation needs from our own stock. We will be building 200 additional homes by 2017.”
He recalled that the team was set up following a rethink of the Council’s approach to homelessness, which had been based on temporary accommodation – assessment – and a long wait until permanent housing could be offered.
Encouraged by Scottish Government thinking and examples of the success of prevention elsewhere, especially North Ayrshire and Blackpool, the Council rethought its approach to homelessness aiming to prevent people having to spend time in temporary accommodation.
He added: “We involved partners and stakeholders in developing the approach and changing our policy. We committed to staff training and development.
The approach involves explaining to people what other housing options are available, either to allow someone to stay in their current accommodation – if that is suitable for their needs - or exploring whether there are other options that would prevent them becoming homeless and helping them access these options.
“In many cases this involves family mediation and preventing young people leaving home or helping people access the private rented sector. The team have also been able to help people remain in accommodation that they would otherwise have lost.”
Success in responding to homelessness, he stressed, required dedicated partnership working. The Council was committed to this and welcomed the input and contribution of Homeless Action Inverness, its member organisations and other partners and stakeholders throughout the Highlands.
The theme of the conference was Welfare Reform and Councillor Hendry took the opportunity to highlight the Council’s opposition to many of the changes being introduced.
He said: “We think the bedroom tax is unjust and unfair and penalises some of the poorest and most vulnerable people. In common with other Councils, it is not possible for us to move everyone affected by the bedroom tax. We have amended our policies to give people greater protection from eviction and greater priority for a transfer to a smaller house.
“The Council has received a relatively generous budget for Discretionary Housing Payments and the Scottish Government has also provided significant additional funding. We are using this to alleviate the worst impacts, with a particular emphasis on people affected by the bedroom tax.
“The rollout of Universal Credit and introduction of Personal Independence Payments also raise a number of concerns. There is a real prospect of increasing inequality – and indeed we are already seeing that in the increase in referrals to our money advice teams, to CABx and in the increasing use of foodbanks.
“There is a real concern that welfare reform cuts across many of the progressing policies of the Council in relation to health inequalities and preventative spend. We will continue to fund mitigating measures where we can and to do everything within our power to help people to access good quality, affordable and sustainable accommodation.”