United ef­fort to com­bat home­less­ness

Home­less­ness is in the news at this time of year. RICHARD YOULE looks at how one coun­cil tack­les the prob­lem

Carmarthen Journal - - Front Page -

HOME­LESS­NESS is of­ten in the pub­lic eye at this time of year, but what goes on be­hind the scenes to min­imise it gets less at­ten­tion.

One rough sleeper’s tes­ti­mony will linger longer in the mind than a re­port about the ef­forts of coun­cil of­fi­cers and vol­un­teers who try to keep a roof over peo­ple’s heads.

Coun­cils in Wales have far more re­spon­si­bil­ity to re­solve and pre­vent home­less­ness than they used to, fol­low­ing the in­tro­duc­tion of a new Hous­ing Act.

The act has ex­panded the def­i­ni­tion of home­less­ness and made lo­cal au­thor­i­ties help peo­ple who are at risk at an ear­lier stage.

“The truth is that hav­ing one per­son on the streets is one too many,” said coun­cil­lor Linda Evans, Car­marthen­shire’s ex­ec­u­tive board mem­ber for hous­ing.

A rough sleeper count in Novem­ber this year found no-one liv­ing on the streets of Llanelli, Car­marthen or Am­man­ford. That is not to say there are no rough sleep­ers in Car­marthen­shire – Coun­cil­lor Evans and col­leagues are aware of a Euro­pean cou­ple who sleep on the streets of Car­marthen - but it is much less of an is­sue com- pared to cities like Cardiff.

How­ever, Car­marthen­shire of­fi­cers still opened 1,749 home­less cases last fi­nan­cial year where home­less­ness was judged a threat. The main causes are re­la­tion­ship break­downs and loss of pri­vate rented ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Of the 1,749 cases, 162 in­volved peo­ple needed emer­gency tem­po­rary ac­com­mo­da­tion. Hous­ing ad­vice lead of­fi­cer Rachael Parkin­son said get­ting to the root cause of the prob­lem quickly was key.

For ex­am­ple, on oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist is best

It’s about sit­ting down with a per­son in far more de­tail. With the old (hous­ing) act, you could walk in and walk out in a day

- Rachel Parkin­son

for some­one who can’t man­age in their home for health rea­sons, while a me­di­a­tion ser­vice pro­vided by the char­ity The Wal­lich can re­solve ten­ant-land­lord prob­lems.

The Wal­lich and hous­ing char­ity Shel­ter have a pres­ence at the coun­cil’s hous­ing ser­vice at East­gate, Llanelli.

Peo­ple need­ing help are al­lo­cated a case worker, and a hous­ing needs as­sess­ment and per­sonal hous­ing plan are drawn up. This hous­ing plan sets out what the coun­cil can do to help and what the in­di­vid­ual can do - in­clud­ing what they can re­al­isti- cally af­ford - and it gets re­viewed as the process con­tin­ues.

Paul Sheri­dan of The Wal­lich said: “The per­sonal hous­ing plan is a huge step. Every­one knows what the other is do­ing.”

Miss Parkin­son said of the new ap­proach: “It’s about sit­ting down with a per­son in far more de­tail. With the old (hous­ing) act, you could walk in and walk out in a day.

“Now you get an un­der­stand­ing of some­one’s needs, and look for so­lu­tions. It’s not just the hous­ing - there are usu­ally other things go­ing on in that per­son’s life.”

Asked if this process was time-con­sum­ing, she replied: “Yes, but it stops peo­ple com­ing back round again.”

The coun­cil can also pro­vide fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to help peo­ple be­com­ing home­less.

Asked how much money can be of­fered, Jonathan Mor­gan, the coun­cil’s act­ing head of homes and safer com­mu­ni­ties, said: “That de­pends on the cir­cum­stances. It’s a case-by-case ba­sis.”

He added: “Our first thought is pre­ven­tion. Then, can we sus­tain that per­son’s ac­com­mo­da­tion? Then, can we pro­vide them with any al­ter­na­tives? There are var­i­ous stages we get to be­fore we trig­ger an emer­gency re­sponse.”

On the sup­ply side the of the equa­tion, the coun­cil is de­liv­er­ing af­ford­able homes by bring­ing empty prop­er­ties back into use, man­ag­ing pri­vate rental homes for land­lords and build­ing them through an arm’s-length com­pany called Cartrefi Croeso.

Many of those in need of hous­ing in the county are sin­gle peo­ple, and needs can be com­plex.

“It’s not just about hous­ing, it’s about the choice of hous­ing,” said Mr Sheri­dan.

The coun­cil is keen to ex­pand its Sim­ple Let­tings - or Gosod Syml - ven­ture, which has nearly 200 prop­er­ties on its books.

Pri­vate land­lords who com­mit to the scheme can ben­e­fit from guar­an­teed rent, free gas safety checks and free ten­ancy agree­ments – de­pend­ing on the level of ser­vice they sign up to – while ten­ants helped by the coun­cil are as­sured of good qual­ity ac­com­mo­da­tion.

The coun­cil even of­fers ten­ancy train­ing to en­sure peo­ple they find ac­com­mo­da­tion for un­der­stand their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

“Peo­ple used to be put in bed and break­fasts,” said Coun­cil­lor Evans. “The (hous­ing) con­di­tions are bet­ter now.”

She is keen to re­cruit more land­lords to Sim­ple Let­tings, in­clud­ing fam­i­lies who may have in­her­ited a prop­erty but are not sure what to do with it.

Most of the coun­cil’s tem­po­rary ac­com­mo­da­tion stock is in Llanelli, which gen­er­ates the high­est home­less­ness de­mand in Car­marthen­shire.

At the sharp end of this de­mand are vol­un­teers like Gary Glenis­ter, who runs soup kitchen in the town called Sos­ban Soup, on Old Cas­tle Road.

The Sunday evening ser­vice at Y Lle has been run­ning for two-and-ahalf years and at­tracts, on av­er­age 15 to 20 peo­ple each week. Mr Glenis­ter, who is a Wel­come Chris­tian Fel­low­ship pas­tor, said: “Even though there are not that many peo­ple on the streets in Llanelli, scratch the sur­face and you see more of an ‘in­vis­i­ble’ home­less prob­lem - peo­ple who are vul­ner­a­ble, and have in­ter­twin­ing is­sues like men­tal health, ad­dic­tions and poverty.”

Mr Glenis­ter said the coun­cil should take credit for its fo­cus on pre­ven­tion, but said some­times peo­ple did not cope in ac­com­mo­da­tion pro­vided.

“That’s not a crit­i­cism - it’s just the sys­tem,” he said. “The coun­cil’s home­less­ness strat­egy is try­ing to sort peo­ple’s prob­lems out rather than just their short-term needs, so hope­fully they will get more ap­pro­pri­ate ac­com­mo­da­tion.”

And Mr Glenis­ter said of the once-a-year rough sleeper count: “If you don’t see any­body on the streets that night, then sta­tis­ti­cally they don’t ex­ist.”

Pic­tures: Jonathan My­ers

The coun­cil’s home­less­ness team based at East­gate of­fices, Llanelli.

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