Homelessness is a hidden problem in Richmondshire.
That was the conclusion of a public meeting and discussion hosted by the Richmondshire branch of the Labour Party and held at Richmond Town Hall recently.
The meeting was attended by local people including representatives from Richmondshire District Council, the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, SASH (Preventing Youth Homelessness Together), DISC (Developing Initiatives Supporting Communities), the YMCA, and local housing providers Foundation and The Beacon.
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Dr Alison Jarvis, of Teesside University, opened the meeting with a presentation emphasising the particular issues around homelessness in rural areas, and the considerable impact of recent welfare changes and the policy of austerity.
Speakers said that austerity has impacted on individuals through hardship, unaffordable and inaccessible private sector rental properties and threat of eviction.
A report on homelessness provided by Richmondshire District Council and shared at the meeting reached the same conclusions that Richmondshire, like everywhere else in the country, had been affected by changes to the benefits system.
In their report they acknowledged that this has resulted in delays in claims being processed and people falling into rent arrears and being served notice due to this.
Gill Page, a member of Richmondshire Branch of the Labour Party who chaired the meeting, said “There is a risk that authorities minimise the problem when the evidence of the organisations present makes clear that there is a significant problem which is almost entirely hidden from most people in the area.
“Homelessness appears hidden locally partly because there is a lack of awareness of the problem, with little of the obvious rough sleeping often identified with homelessness.”
People camp rough out-of-sight, and young people ‘sofa surf’ or are forced to leave the district.
The evidence from the providers present was that there is an acute need for more emergency temporary housing, more supported accommodation for those with complex needs and for longer-term affordable solutions.
Organisers of the meeting will be presenting a report of the discussions to the Richmondshire District Council Housing Options Service, with the aim of contributing to the council’s review of local housing strategies in the light of the very recent Homelessness Reduction Act.
One way that people can help very directly is by becoming a SASH host. This involves housing a young person at risk of homelessness, either for a few days or alternatively for a period of months.
The meeting heard that SASH has high success rates in helping young people into more secure futures, and they desperately need more hosts in Richmondshire.
You can find out more at www.sash-uk.org.uk.