Blog post from Cllr Jenny Matterface, Leader of the Thanet Labour Group of Councillors at Thanet District Council.
“We have had tramps, gentlemen of the road, hoboes, vagrants for centuries and legislation to deal with them from Elizabethan times but today’s rough sleepers face issues no less draconian at times.
We have such a severe shortage of accommodation whether social or private that if you, and it could be any one of us, fall between the tracks you could end up on the streets sleeping in shop doorways to the tut-tutting of the well-heeled passing by. Maybe you find a quiet spot on a beach or in a shelter until you get moved on. Possibly you try to sleep in your car with doors and windows securely locked.
You may be offered bed and breakfast in one of our local hotels or guest houses that possibly has seen better days or may even still be open to paying guests. Oh, forget the breakfast. These days it’s a bed, maybe, or a mattress on the floor if you are a child in an unheated, damp room without any drinking water, cooking facilities or clothes-washing arrangements. You may have a kettle if you are lucky, so at least you can make a hot drink or ‘enjoy’ a Pot Noodle for your dinner. You might even share your room with some unwanted guests of the insect kind.
Thanet District Council arranges to pay for your accommodation at a daily rate that may be higher than if you were paying for your own accommodation, a good deal for the hotel/guest house owner but unfortunately it is only for a limited period of 28 to 36 days after which you have to hope something will turn up otherwise the future looks even bleaker.
You may be able to move away nearer family or friends as many areas up north have spare capacity in their housing stock. TDC might even offer you your fare to the north it what if you do have a job but no home. Do you give up that and hope for the best when you move or stay put here?
You may struggle with private-rented accommodation due to letting fees, deposit and high monthly rents. Housing benefit is capped but private rents aren’t so there will be a gulf between what you can afford and what you pay. As a result a vicious circle of rent arrears, eviction, homelessness, letting fees etc soon forms made worse by low pay locally even with the national living wage, part-time work or zero hours contracts.
So, who are the rough sleepers we see on our streets or some may prefer to ignore? Many come from abusive homes and may have never formed secure relationships. Some have been in care and never knew a ‘normal family life’. Others became addicts. Some may have mental health issues coupled with a shortage of beds in mental health units. Ex-servicemen and women find it hard to adjust to ‘civvy street’ without the daily structure of the forces.
Maybe the rough sleeper suffered a marital breakdown or lost a job and fell into debt with the home being repossessed.
Every rough sleeper has a different tale to tell but all face lonely, cold nights on the streets or in substandard temporary accommodation.
There are no easy answers to the situation but it has been made worse by the lack of social housing and now housing associations can sell off what properties they consider surplus or too costly to bring up to standard. In my own ward, one-bedroomed flats have been vacated by tenants who moved to alternative accommodation enabling the housing association to sell off the void properties on the open market. It seems if the rent is higher at the alternative offered the extra rent is down to the tenant and, hopefully for housing benefit claimants, the top-ups cover the extra cost.
What can we as Labour members do? Support organisations that do work with the rough sleepers like GAP, Turning Point or Porchlight. GAP Community Centre welcomes donations of clothing items like boxer shorts, gloves, socks plus food items like ring-pull cans of meat, hot dogs, rice pudding etc.for their pantry. Donate to the food bank collection points in our supermarkets. Offer a home to a former looked-after child leaving care, perhaps.
Campaign for: more social housing, more inward investment in sustainable employment, for rent caps in the private-sector, stop cuts to welfare, offer to help charities that support rough sleepers like Crisis at Christmas.
I asked at the recent full council meeting how much it cost the taxpayer to support rough sleepers and the homeless in temporary accommodation and the answer was that for the last eleven months £302,000 was paid out and, although some £261,000 was covered by housing benefit, this is all taxpayers’ money going to private landlords running hotels and guest houses. I asked when these had last been inspected and the answer was that full inspections hadn’t been carried out since 2013 so that was being remedied as soon as possible.
No-one chooses the lifestyle of the rough sleeper and we need to do what we can to help this worsening situation.”
If you are interested in supporting any of the charities/organisations helping the homeless and rough sleepers in Thanet, the links below are a good starting point:
For advice/guidance on housing and homeless issues at Thanet District Council, click here.