Funding cutbacks for support services see more people in Ipswich slipping into housing crisis
PUBLISHED: 15:39 30 November 2016 | UPDATED: 08:09 05 December 2016
On day three of our investigation into homelessness in Ipswich, Gemma Mitchell visits the services that are working to prevent vulnerable people ending up on the streets.
Cutbacks in funding for support services have pushed more people in Ipswich into a housing crisis.
That is the view of Dan Bristow, manager of SNAP, an organisation that offers free guidance to those in Suffolk who are worried that they may lose their home or are already homeless.
Since its launch eight years ago, SNAP has handled around 13,500 cases, including families, and prevented countless people from ending up on the streets.
However, Mr Bristow said 18 months ago SNAP had its funding cut by one third by Suffolk County Council, which meant the organisation had to let go of many of its support workers.
This had an impact not only on SNAP’s service, but on others in the fields of housing and homelessness as well.
“We have seen a huge rise in demand for our service but then, due to austerity measures, we suffered a massive cut to our funding,” Mr Bristow said.
“Prevention is a very noble aim and probably the main aim initially of the service.
“Unfortunately, increasing demands on services and reducing resources means we often only get people referred when they are at crisis point and that’s the unfortunate thing.
“The amount of people at crisis point has meant that we have been less able to do that prevention work because we are helping people in crisis and they are much more demanding.”
SNAP is leaving its offices at Dencora Business Park in Ipswich due to financial pressures.
The organisation has put in a bid for fresh funding from Suffolk County Council for the next financial year, and is waiting to hear if it has been successful.
SNAP is made up of staff from Orwell Housing, Anglia Care Trust, Ipswich Housing Action Group, Centra and Family Action. It runs more than 30 drop-ins across Suffolk as well as providing one-to-one support.
Mr Bristow said: “We could be dealing with a 17-year-old with a drug misuse problem and behavioural difficulties, to an 85-year-old with dementia, and everything in between.
“Evicting someone is very expensive and it doesn’t serve that much of a purpose, so it’s much better for the landlord and the tenant for us to address their behaviour and the rent arrears so they can stay in the property.
“Some people will always choose to live on the streets but for the people who it isn’t a choice what we want to do is offer them support so that the skills they have aren’t wasted.
“They can use those skills to get access to housing, to maintain it and to work with people to take those steps into education, training or work.”
What Suffolk County Council says
Rebecca Hopfensperger, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for adult care, said: “Suffolk County Council has been working with all providers of Housing Related Support services over the last 18 months. These services support people in a variety of ways to enable people to keep their own homes and thereby prevent homelessness, or to move into stable housing following a period in temporary accommodation.
“We have been working with providers to re-design those services to better meet the need for these services across Suffolk and to ensure they are efficient and effective. That work has also included monitoring and improving the quality of those services, working with the providers of those services in the best interest of the people we serve.
“During this period the council has ensured that there is no reduction in the range or extent of support available. We are currently re-commissioning these services and continue to ensure that there is no reductions in those services once that re-commissioning is complete.”
How Ipswich Borough Council can help
More than 200 people in Ipswich who sought homelessness support from the local authority over the past three years were turned away.
Ipswich Borough Council (IBC) only has a legal responsibility under the Housing Act to find accommodation for certain people who tick four boxes.
Firstly the person has to be eligible for public funds, which depends on their immigration status; and secondly they have to have a connection to Ipswich.
The applicant has to prove that they are not “intentionally homeless”, which means they have deliberately done something, or failed to do something, that resulted in them losing their home.
Lastly they must be in “priority need”. This includes parents with young children, pregnant women, those who are vulnerable as a result of mental or physical illness or disability, and victims fleeing violence.
“So if you are single, fit and healthy, you won’t have a priority under the legislation,” said Peter Whittall, operational manager for housing advice at IBC. “That’s one of the most difficult things. But we certainly don’t take decisions lightly when we do make them because some people are in very powerless positions.”
If the applicant does not have a connection to Ipswich, Mr Whittall said the borough council could refer them to a different authority for support.
Furthermore, those who are in priority need but not eligible for housing help could be signposted to social services.
“Sometimes we get situations where a family comes over from another country and if they have children, for example, but are not eligible for housing under legislation then we refer them to social services where they may have a duty towards them under the Children’s Act or the Care Act,” Mr Whittall said.
Over three financial years between 2013 and 2016, 663 went to IBC for homelessness support. Out of this figure, 456 people were classed as eligible, unintentionally homeless, with a connection to Ipswich and a priority need.
Between April and June this year, 61 people applied to IBC for homelessness help – and 40 of those were accepted.
IBC works closely with the Chapman Centre, Mr Whittall added, which will often step in when the homeless person is single and does not have a priority need under the law.
Anyone who is under the age of 16 and is made homeless is cared for by Suffolk County Council.
Supported accommodation for young homeless people is provided in Ipswich through various hostels and organisations, including Gibson Lodge, Ipswich Foyer, Christchurch House and the YMCA.
Mr Whitall said every single Ipswich resident was entitled to free and independent housing advice from the council. “Our main aim is to prevent people becoming homeless,” he added.
“We do that by either keeping people in their property by building bridges with landlords, or if not we would find them another private sector tenancy to move in straight away so they are never actually homeless. That’s primarily what we try to do.”
Mr Whittall said the council prevented 610 households being made homeless last year.
There are many myths around homelessness, especially about who gets housed first.
All those who are eligible for housing support will be treated the same, Mr Whittall said, whether they are a single mother or a migrant from overseas.
He added: “People also have a misconception that we have got empty properties waiting for people to come along, but people can be several weeks if not months in temporary accommodation.
In total, Ipswich Borough Council has temporary accommodation in the town for 44 households. It also has two emergency beds at Cavendish Lodge, a hostel in Turret Lane. This provision is increased to 12 when weather conditions are severe.
To read day four of our investigation into homelessness, click here.