Inevitable second wave of homelessness expected in East Devon

Jay Colderick. Picture: Marc Astley

Jay Colderick. Picture: Marc Astley - Credit: Archant

A second wave of homelessness is this winter is thought to be ‘inevitable’

East Devon District Council is preparing to deal with the ‘inevitable second wave of homelessness’ over the winter now the ban on landlords evicting tenants has ceased.

Wednesday’s cabinet meeting heard that during the coronavirus pandemic, the council has seen a huge increase in demand for people requiring temporary accommodation, with high numbers of approaches received from people fleeing domestic violence, those needing accommodation for health reasons, hospital discharges and those with a need to shield.

There had also been a large increase from people who had previously freely moved between properties, known as ‘sofa-surfers’, no longer being free to do so.

Andrew Mitchell, housing solutions manager, said that while actions have been taken to address the homelessness situation throughout the pandemic, the economic situations created by the pandemic, including people losing jobs and income being reduced creating barriers to the affordability of rent and mortgage payments, ultimately contributing towards evictions and loss of homes, need to be factored in.

The cabinet agreed to the request for funding to increase staffing levels within the housing team, as well as agreeing to write to MPs and the Government to lobby them to reinstate the ban on evictions.

Mr Mitchell said that for the first six months of 2020-21, between April and September, there have been 432 homeless approaches recorded, which actually was a lower figure than for the same period last year of 555.

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But he said: “This figure has been reached without the usual high number of homeless approaches from people losing accommodation in the private sector. This is as a direct result of the government’s current restrictions on evictions from tenancies in the social and private sectors. Year on year the loss of accommodation in the private sector is a major contributor to homeless approaches to East Devon.

“We are acutely aware that this is only a temporary measure and there will be a high number of approaches from people losing accommodation in the private sector when the government restrictions on evictions are lifted.

“Despite the lower number of overall approaches during the last six months, it is noted that many cases have been of a much higher complexity than usual and the issues we have experienced in dealing with these complex cases has been compounded by the reduction in the potential solutions available to us as a direct result of the pandemic.

“Some of the issues we have come up against include the period of reduced free movement during full lockdown, a reduced supply of available accommodation within the private and social sectors, and lack of access to supported accommodation projects.”

Councillor Mike Allen said that it was clear that the problem was going to get worse. He said: “The pain is devastating for any family being evicted and I don’t know any situation worse than losing your home and being forced onto the streets, but it is only going to get worse and the problem is only going to get worse.”

Cllr Marianne Rixson said that she was deeply worried by the rise in demand, and added that she was appalled the ban on evictions was being lifted when heading into the winter months, while Cllr Paul Millar said they should write to MPs around to try and get the decision reversed as ‘lifting the ban on evictions will have an awful effect as pandemic isn’t going away’.

The meeting also heard of the plight of a homeless man who has been sleeping rough in the shelter in Phear Park in Exmouth for the last two months.

Speaking about him, Gillian Adamson said that she has been taking him sandwiches and fruit on a daily basis, while Exmouth Friends in Need have been donated clothing and shoes for him.

But she said that the council are refusing to house him and the housing team had warned her not to approach this homeless man, implying he was dangerous or violent in some way.