Rescue Remedies For Victims Of Cambridgeshire’s Housing Crisis

young_homeless08:20 Tuesday 25th June 2013
Bigger Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: A homeless hostel in Littleport is reopening to support families who find themselves with nowhere to live. It’s part of a five year plan by East Cambridgeshire District Council to reduce the amount they spend on emergency bed and breakfast accommodation. earlier we heard from Council Leader James Palmer. He said the hostel was closed in 2009 because homelessness wasn’t a problem. (TAPE)
JAMES PALMER: No problem goes away for good, but for several years we hadn’t had an issue on homelessness at all. And obviously, as any council does, savings have to be made where they can. Now the situation arose that there were people in homelessness. We made changes to the system we were using. We had I think twenty three families homeless at Christmas, and now we’re down to one. And obviously we are reopening, we’ve refurbished and we’re reopening the hostel in Littleport, which will help, should there be an influx in the future. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Well Jenny Rhodes is running that hostel. She’s from Sanctuary Housing. Morning Jenny.
JENNY RHODES: Morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: So who exactly does the hostel provide accommodation for?
JENNY RHODES: Many people actually. Obviously people that may have lost their homes due to maybe private rented accommodation, because the local authority and housing benefit pay for that accommodation. But sometimes the privately rented landlords decide that they don’t want to take housing benefit any longer. That’s one of the reasons why they would become homeless. Other people become homeless because they’re living with family, and they find themselves with small children, and there’s just not the accommodation there any longer, so they need to have hostel accommodation.
PAUL STAINTON: So what do you get? Say I am homeless. and I qualify, I come to you, what happens?
JENNY RHODES: Well you would have to go through a risk assessment obviously for the safety of the hostel managers, to make sure that they would be safe in the hostel. Obviously we have to go through who lives in the hostel, and whether they may be a threat to them. depending on the reasons why they’re coming to the hostel, it could be some domestic violence, and those kinds of things. What they get in the hostel would be a room, their own room, then everything else is shared. So there is shared accommodation in there. A lot of people that come into the hostel are quite down and not very happy, and the last thing they really want to do is move into a hostel. But from our point of view, what we need to do is make them feel at home, let them know that when they move into the hostel, that is their home. They have got a door to lock when they’re in there. Generally be able to live in a communal area, communal living really with other people that live there.
PAUL STAINTON: You’ve got to get on with everybody, haven’t you?
JENNY RHODES: Well this is it. Sometimes we do have difficulties with that. people don’t get on, so what we have to do then is shuffle people around so that they’re not in the same vicinity. So it can be quite difficult. But what we do try to do is make things quite nice, and encourage people. This is where you are living at the moment. You’ve got to make the most of it. So we’ll do our best to make that as easy as possible for you.
PAUL STAINTON: And it’s a stop gap, isn’t it? And you’re trying to make it as happy as you can before they hopefully move on to their own home somewhere perhaps.
JENNY RHODES: Exactly. Yes. And I do find sometimes that some of the residents there do become quite down and thinking I’m never going to get out of here. The problem that we’ve got at the moment is that the majority of people in the homeless hostel need two bedroomed properties. two bedroomed properties are just like gold dust. If people have got two children, then they don’t qualify for a three bedroomed property until one of those children is ten years old, whether they’re same sex or opposite sex. So they are basically looking for a two bedroomed home until their children reach the age of ten. So that is quite a difficult situation that we’ve got.
PAUL STAINTON: You run other hostels in the county as well. Is homelessness becoming more or less of a problem?
JENNY RHODES: More. Obviously at the moment we’ve got six hostels, including the Littleport hostel. By the end of this week .. Littleport hostel has got six units, and that will be full by Friday.
PAUL STAINTON: Straight away. Just like that.
JENNY RHODES: Straight away. Yes. The other hostels that we have got in the Cambridge areas, they’re all full as well. We’ve got, I think it’s 42 units altogether now.
PAUL STAINTON: How many more do we need?
JENNY RHODES: Well, we could do with a lot more obviously because there’s more homeless at the moment. We are looking at potentially there is a property in Soham that we’re looking at maybe refurbishing for the Council. We’re negotiating costs of how much that would be. And dependent on whether the local council can foot the bill to refurbish that property, would determine whether it will open. If it does, that would be an additional four rooms, four unit scheme. So that would be further accommodation. because obviously, for the local council, people being put into bed and breakfast isn’t really the best way. It’s expensive, and the people that are living in bed and breakfast aren’t allowed to have visitors. They haven’t got any cooking facilities. They’ve got bed and breakfast, and any other meals that they want they’ve got to go out and source from other avenues. ..
PAUL STAINTON: It’s a fantastic job that you do. Jenny Rhodes from Sanctuary Housing, running that hostel in Littleport. Meanwhile in Cambridge, there’s also a proposal which could stop the next generation of rough sleepers there. The City Council are creating a lettings agency, to match landlords with people looking for a home. It will be paid for by a Government grant of over ¬£300,000. Catherine Smart is the Executive Councillor for Housing in Cambridge. Morning Catherine.
CATHERINE SMART: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: How is this going to work?
CATHERINE SMART: Well we’re doing it actually on behalf of all the councils in Cambridgeshire. The Government said we’ll give you a grant if you’ll all work together. So we said right, fine. And they said we want one council to take the lead, so we said OK, we’ll do it. It actually fits exactly with the situation you’ve just been talking about in Littleport. Single people who are made homeless are not usually .. we’re not usual able to .. the Council’s not usually able to help them. They wouldn’t be put into the hostels like the Phoenix unless there’s a particular circumstance, unless they’re vulnerable and disabled, ill, or something like that.
PAUL STAINTON: Who normally helps them?
CATHERINE SMART: Well that’s the trouble. They usually start by sofa-surfing with their friends, but I won’t say they run out of friends, or run out of sofas, but ..
PAUL STAINTON: Run out of kindness perhaps.
CATHERINE SMART: Yes. The problem is that they can end up rough sleeping, and then things can go into a very nasty spiral downwards. And so the idea is to take the people from all the area, and so we’re doing this on behalf of them all, and try and match them up with landlords who will take them, and also, and this is an important thing, we’ve got what we’re calling a rapid response team, that we’re going to try and talk to them, find out what happened, why it is they’re in the situation that is, what it is that can be done to help them, perhaps to get a job, perhaps they’ve got some .. whatever it is. The rapid response team will fix them up .. link them up with the agency that can help them. And hopefully we’ll stop them falling into that particular situation again, and give them a real lift up, and just not have the next generation of rough sleepers. That’s the aim.
PAUL STAINTON: But the rapid response team are not going to build one bedroomed and two bedroomed houses. We’ve already heard, and time and time again haven’t we, there’s a massive shortage. We’ve just heard from the lady from Sanctuary housing there’s a lack of two bedroomed houses. That’s the big problem here. It doesn’t matter how many agencies you set up, there isn’t the housing stock, is there?
CATHERINE SMART: Well it complements in a sense the local plans that the councils are putting through at the moment, which are planning on a great deal more building of houses in the whole area.
PAUL STAINTON: It doesn’t work now though, does it? Now is the problem, isn ‘t it?
CATHERINE SMART: Yes. And of course there are houses coming on stream in the Southern fringe sites in Cambridge at the moment. And we’re hoping.. the previous lady was talking about people having to go into the hostels because they couldn’t move into houses. Well we have got a sort of .. well it’s silted up really is what’s sometimes said, but hopefully there are a lot more houses being completed. But that’s not actually the group of people that this service is for. This is for the group of people whom the Council can’t usually help, to try and help them.
PAUL STAINTON: When you talk about these new houses, are they going to be cheaper houses, or are they going to be quarter of a million pounds, three hundred thousand pound houses? Will your agency be offering lower rents than currently those available? because these are the problems here, aren’t they?
CATHERINE SMART: Well we’ll certainly be contacting landlords all over the region. Cambridge, the rents in Cambridge, are as you know sky high. And that’s one of the reasons why these people find that they can’t rent. So it’s an attempt to help them to find places to stay elsewhere.
PAUL STAINTON: But you see my point. How are you going to make a difference? How are you going to stop landlords charging these rents? How are you going to find houses that are not pricing people out of buying. What difference are you going to make and how?
CATHERINE SMART: We’re going to set up a lettings agency, and we’ve obviously looked at the thing, had a consultant to look at things properly. And we think that we can make it work.
PAUL STAINTON: But what’s the difference is what I’m trying to get at. What’s the difference between your letting agency and any other on the street? What are you going to do that’s different?
CATHERINE SMART:¬†Because we’re going to guarantee the rent, and we’re going to help the people to keep their tenancy, and support them, and link them up with people and so on and so forth. We haven’t started it yet. It actually goes to committee this afternoon. And assuming that committee approve, then we will be starting it later in the year.
PAUL STAINTON: Just quickly, will you be charging a fee, like other agents do?
CATHERINE SMART: No. The fee will be coming out of the grant. That’s the whole point, using the grant in that way to help people.
PAUL STAINTON: so that is a difference, isn’t it?
CATHERINE SMART: Well we are trying to help people who the Council can not normally help. But we’re trying to help them so that they don’t become rough sleepers.