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The scourge of homelessness and rough sleeping

Everyone deserves the right to a safe, secure home to call their own.

However, since 2010 homelessness across the UK has doubled.  It is heartbreaking that, in the present day, we see so many families without the opportunity to have a stable base from which to live and thrive.

In Neath Port Talbot, we are not alone in experiencing increasing demands on our homelessness service.  The number of households who have been found homeless and who the Council has a duty to help find accommodation has risen by 21% since 2015-16.  The numbers of people, both families and individuals, in temporary accommodation (including B&Bs) has also increased.

This is simply unacceptable.

Homelessness can have many causes.  Often, those affected suffer from more than one.

Home ownership, especially amongst the under-45s has plummeted.  First time buyers are finding it increasingly difficult to get on the housing ladder. Insecurity for those renting privately with high rents, poor living conditions and a lack of continuity also contributes.  Similarly, pressures on affordable housing also leave their mark on the situation.

Add to that mix, decisions made by central government on pay, housing policy, austerity and changes to the welfare system, including the introduction of Universal Credit and you begin to understand the reasons behind the sharp rise in homelessness in recent years.

Many of these things are out of the control of local authorities and, as a Council, on these matters we can only lobby and argue for change, not directly influence decide.  However, what we can do is make sure that those services being delivered locally to help people who find themselves on the brink are as efficient and effective as they can be.

Earlier this month, we formally approved our new Neath Port Talbot Homelessness Strategy covering 2018-22. 

It follows extensive consultation and review of the existing system and recommends more focused community based support, targeted interventions for those people with complex needs such as mental health, substance misuse and criminal justice involvement as well as looking at new ways to finalise permanent housing solutions quicker to reduce demand for temporary accommodation.

The Strategy will now be followed by a detailed, multi-agency action plan to be published in the next few months.

All of this cannot be achieved without a clear focus on partnership working.  Different internal departments in the Council must work together better and relationships between the Council, the County’s registered social landlords, health and other sectors should aim to be as seamless as possible.  Our efforts will, of course, also be shaped by the innovative progress made by the Welsh Government on homelessness and I very much hope this work will be further developed and championed by the new First Minister and his recently appointed Minister for Housing & Local Government.

We all have a responsibility to do what we can to eradicate the modern day scandal of homelessness and everything damaging that it brings to those people who are affected.  The Council and its partners remain committed to doing our bit to deliver exactly that.

Councillor Peter Richards

Cabinet Member for Adult Social Services & Health