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Homelessness now affecting over 250,000 in ‘modern day housing crisis’

Homelessness in England now affects over a quarter of a million people, a report released for Shelter’s 50th anniversary has revealed.

The charity used a combination of official statistics and Freedom of Information requests to produce the most comprehensive figures on homelessness yet, which put the total number at almost 255,000.

The report was inspired by Shelter’s original ‘Green Book’, which was released in 1966 and exposed the extent of homelessness at the time.

Campbell Robb, the chief executive of Shelter, said: “Shelter’s founding shone a light on hidden homelessness in the sixties slums. But while those troubled times have faded into memory, fifty years on a modern day housing crisis is tightening its grip on our country.

“Hundreds of thousands of people will face the trauma of waking up homeless this Christmas. Decades in the making, this is the tragic result of a nation struggling under the weight of sky-high rents, a lack of affordable homes, and cuts to welfare support.”

Des Wilson, Shelter’s co-founder, added that he hopes the country will respond to the charity’s “urgent rallying call with the same combination of anger and compassion with which it supported our work all those years ago”.

A DCLG spokesperson insisted the government “did not recognise these figures” and that the actual level of homelessness was “less than half of the 2003 peak”.

However, the DCLG’s own statistics indicate that the amount of homelessness applications accepted by councils has increased by 10% in the past year.

The Shelter report also listed the top 25 ‘homelessness hotspots’, where the population are most at risk of homelessness. The local authority topping the list was Westminster, where one in 25 people are homeless. It was followed by Newham (one in 27) and Haringey (one in 28). Of the top 20 councils, 18 were in London. The other two were Luton (one in 18) and Brighton and Hove (one in 20).

Home ownership in the capital has fallen by 13.5 percentage points since its peak, and a Resolution Foundation report warned that the housing crisis could spread to other cities such as Manchester.

Cllr Martin Tett, the LGA’s housing spokesperson, said: “Funding pressures are combining with a lack of affordable housing and rents continuing to rise above household incomes to leave many councils struggling to cope with rising homelessness across all areas of the country.

“Finding emergency housing for homeless people, particularly young or vulnerable people or those with families, is increasingly difficult for councils.”

Cllr Tett added that there is no silver bullet, and “councils alone cannot tackle rising homelessness”.

“It is crucial that the government recognise and address the wider factors that are increasing homelessness, such as the lack of affordable housing and welfare reforms,” he said.

He called for new powers and funding to allow councils to build affordable homes, address the gap between incomes and rents, and join up other services affecting homelessness, such as justice, skills and health.

A major Communities and Local Government Committee report, published in August, found that there is ‘unacceptable’ variation between councils’ provision of homelessness services, with some local authorities discouraging applications.

The committee took the unusual step of sponsoring the Homelessness Reduction Bill, introduced by committee member Bob Blackman, which would place more extensive homelessness duties on councils. The Bill has now received the support of both the government and Labour.

(Image c. Jonathan Brady from PA Archive)

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