To receive a presentation on the current position with homelessness in the Borough and measures in place to provide support during the Covid pandemic.
The sub-committee received a presentation which provided an update on the homeless service. Members received data in relation to the number of homeless presentations, placements to temporary accommodation and rough sleepers in the period March to November 2019 compared to March to November 2020. There was an initial peak in homeless cases in April/May 2020 and this started to rise again during the Autumn. From March to November this year the Authority placed 227 people in temporary accommodation, an increase from 145 in the same period last year. The Council had been quick to respond to the situation following lockdown and offered a wide criterion for those that would quality for a placement in temporary accommodation. During May to November 2020 47 rough sleepers were identified, an increase from 7 during the same period in 2019. This was attributed to people not being able to share accommodation with friends and family during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It was noted that the number of people that present as homeless does not mean that they will become homeless, for some people it might mean requiring advice to present themselves becoming homeless. It was explained that there were 7 grant funded posts aimed at supporting those that present with housing related problems. Funding was available through the Homeless Prevention Grant to prevent homelessness by paying rent arrears, securing accommodation by paying a rental deposit or providing transport to return to family. The Next Steps Accommodation Programme awarded £32k revenue to support rough sleepers in emergency accommodation.
In relation to the access to support that customers had, it was noted that a frontline service continued to be delivered at the North Shields Customer First Centre and that this was by appointment only. A freephone number had recently been introduced and a 24 hour ‘out of hour’ service was in place. Referrals could be made from partner organisations.
In relation to the dispersed accommodation that was available, Members were informed that the number of units had increased from 29 to 37. The criteria used for assessing need for this accommodation was lenient and the number of units available continued to be reviewed. Bed and breakfasts, both in North Tyneside and outside of the area, were used to provide some temporary accommodation.
The presentation detailed the practices that were put in place by the housing service to deliver support during the pandemic. A specialist post was in place to work with rough sleepers and this support would continue for 6 months where a tenancy had been secured. Personal Housing Plans were developed for each person that presented as homeless and these were centred around the individuals’ needs. A personalisation pot was available which helped with setting up bank accounts, rent deposits and buying train tickets. Rough sleepers were provided with wellness packs containing masks, hand sanitiser and food. Mobile phones were also provided so that individuals could keep in touch with officers in housing and the services and support that was available.
The sub-committee was informed of the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) that was operational between 1 November and 31 March and any other periods where there is severe weather. There was no strict definition of severe weather but this was considered to be excessive rain, high winds, snow and frost or where a weather warning was in place in North Tyneside. The protocol was activated when the actual or ‘feels like’ temperature is forecast to drop to zero degrees or below for 3 consecutive nights or severe weather forecast. The weather is monitored by the Housing Team and all rough sleeps have the opportunity to access shelter during severe weather. Every effort was made to engage with rough sleepers to provide them access to the support they needed.
The presentation provided details of the ‘sit up’ service that had been delivered by Whitley Bay Street Pastors and volunteers for the last 5 years. This provided shelter at a local hall along with food and refreshments. As this provision was no longer able to be ran due to Covid-19, revised arrangements were in place to verify rough sleepers and to provide single person occupancy provision, generally at bed and breakfast establishments.
Members recognised that throughout the pandemic there had been a lot of new guidance issued and asked how it was ensured that housing staff were kept up-to-date with the latest developments. Officers explained that housing teams had daily catch ups to update on cases and share any changes to processes and practices. A longer weekly team meeting was also held to provide any necessary training and more detail on new guidance.
The importance of being able to sustain tenancies after initial support was raised and it was asked what measures were taken to ensure tenants were supported to engage in a successful tenancy. It was explained that the temporary accommodation officer would refer the individual to where additional support could be provided in relation to looking for employment opportunities and identifying any skills gaps.
A Member of the sub-committee asked if the pandemic had highlighted hidden homelessness and sofa surfing. It was explained that, whilst the data showed 47 rough sleepers between March and November 2020, only 14 of these were actually rough sleepers and the rest were sofa surfers. Covid had prevented these people from staying with friends on an informal basis as households were unable to mix. These individuals were therefore picked up as a result of Covid and placed in temporary accommodation.
The Chair thanked the officers for the information presented to the sub-committee.
It was agreed to note the information provided in the presentation.