Ipswich braced for dramatic rise in homelessness this winter from aftershock of coronavirus

A passer by shares his food with a homeless man Picture:SARAH LUCY BROWN

A passer by shares his food with a homeless man Picture:SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Ipswich is braced for a stark rise in homelessness this winter, amid desperate worries the Covid-19 crisis could leave even more people out on the streets.

Neil MacDonald, Ipswich Borough Council's portfolio holder for housing and health. Picture: IPSWICH

Neil MacDonald, Ipswich Borough Council's portfolio holder for housing and health. Picture: IPSWICH BOROUGH COUNCIL - Credit: Contributed

The pandemic has already caused an “unprecedented number of homeless people” in the town, with the borough council aware of 120 households – 203 individuals – who have needed urgent accommodation.

Neil MacDonald, the council’s portfolio holder for housing and health, said that with 100 temporary accommodation rooms in the town: “We thought we had enough capacity to cover every eventuality.”

But the economic hardship caused by coronavirus has already wildly exceeded past expectations, with the council having to block book bed and breakfasts and 35 rooms in a hotel to house rough sleepers.

MORE: Ipswich to spend £150k on hotels for rough sleepers during coronavirus crisis

Jools Ramsey, chief executive of Ipswich Housing Action Group (IHAG). Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

Jools Ramsey, chief executive of Ipswich Housing Action Group (IHAG). Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH - Credit: Archant

Anglia Care Trust (ACT), one of the organisations working to eliminate the problem in the town, said: “The Covid-19 crisis has shown that there is both a national and local willingness to end homelessness.”

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However, Jools Ramsey, chief executive of Ipswich Housing Action Group (IHAG) - which runs the Chapman Centre for homeless people – said: “With a financial crisis already underway, it is highly likely the numbers of people seeking our support will increase dramatically.

“Charities such as IHAG will need adequate financial support to be able to meet this new demand.”

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Mr MacDonald fears: “The next big problem will be when evictions are allowed again.”

The government has banned landlords from evicting tenants during the crisis, but this is only a temporary measure.

Similarly, chancellor Rishi Sunak has made clear the furlough scheme to safeguard jobs will end in October, sparking fears there will be a wave of redundancies and people unable to pay their bills.

“Clearly then, there will be a lot of people defaulting on their rent and loans - in which case, we’ll have to find somewhere else for them to live,” Mr MacDonald said.

“We’re potentially saving up the best part of six months of evictions.

“Unemployment will go up and people will be earning less money. Both of those things will put pressure on landlords to evict people.

“For me, the next phase will be at the end of August, when evictions start, and when furlough ends.”

Ipswich council and groups like ACT and IHAG are also faced with trying to find permanent homes for those currently in temporary accommodation.

MORE: ‘Shocking’ homelessness will only get worse, Ipswich warned

“Many of those are people who have rent arrears, so private landlords are not keen to take them,” said Mr MacDonald.

As such, he said: “The challenge is the same as it has always been – not enough accommodation and not enough support to go around.

“We have a chronic shortage of affordable housing across the whole country. We, as a nation, have not built enough properties over the last several decades.”

Work is currently taking place to build 60 council homes on the former Tooks bakery site in Ipswich, with Mr MacDonald saying: “We need to do more to bring forward those developments.

“Building more temporary accommodation is the wrong answer. We’re just covering up a bigger problem.”

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Keith Whitton, director of operations at ACT, said: “The move to place all homeless people into temporary accommodation has mitigated some of the risks homeless people face.

“However, we feel that the primary challenges facing the homeless remain - the shortage of housing, high rental prices, the inability to fund deposits along with a surging demand for social housing.

“The imminent ending of the homeless being housed in temporary accommodation and hotels will also create a challenge for all agencies keen to ensure they do not return to the streets and who may have struggled to work constructively with the homeless.

“ACT is working alongside local authorities, housing associations, and charities across Suffolk to ensure that those currently in temporary accommodation have both a place to stay, together with the support they need to sustain their tenancies.

“With the end of furloughing, along with the ending of the ban on evictions for ‘arrears’, we’re concerned that some landlords may move to evict tenants who fall into arrears.

“However, we are working with many private sector landlords, who have a social conscience and look to the long-term benefits of supporting residents in difficult times.”

Ms Ramsey added: “A roof is only the beginning to a solution to homelessness.

“Moving from a hotel room to being responsible for a tenancy is a massive step, and ongoing practical and emotional advice and support is vital to ensure this can be maintained. IHAG and other providers have offered to provide this support.”

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