Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Churches struggling to cope with growing housing needs

Churches are struggling to cope with the rise in demand for homeless and housing services.

Housing Justice says that churches in its network have reported an increase in the number of people turning to them for help with housing.

New church shelter schemes that opened up this winter in Milton Keynes and Birmingham were filled to capacity.

Newly published Government statistics show that rough sleeping has risen in England by 23% in the last year.

Figures from the Department of Communities and Local Government state that 2,181 people are sleeping rough on any one night, up from a total of 1,768 in last year's count. 

The figure is based on street counts carried out by 53 local authorities between October and November of last year, and estimates made in partnership with local homelessness agencies.

Housing Justice director Alison Gelder said: “This increase is sadly part of a familiar picture of chronic and growing housing need in society."

The largest number of rough sleepers per head of population is in the South of England, particularly the South West.

A hearing at Exeter University last December revealed that the region is experiencing an affordable housing crisis.

Exeter City Council reported that 8,000 households are on its waiting list for housing - with 1,500 deemed a priority - but only around 500 affordable homes are becoming available each year.

Ms Gelder criticised the new limits on Local Housing Allowance and the Government's plans to introduce a cap on benefits.

“Churches providing practical assistance to homeless and precariously housed people are struggling to meet the rising demand," she said.

"As predicted, cuts to local authority funded services and independent advice agencies are starting to bite. And on top of all this the rising cost of food and other essentials is forcing many families into debt just to survive. The Coalition Government should think again about its policies which are impacting most directly on the poorest in society. They could start by scrapping the benefit caps in the Welfare Reform Bill.”