Homeless charities warn of increase in Kent thanks to welfare cuts
MORE people will be forced on to the streets in West Kent because of welfare cuts and a lack of affordable housing, according to those who work with the homeless.
Their predictions come as Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's housing strategy for the next five years said homelessness in the borough would rise.
Two West Kent charities are concerned homeless levels will surge due to welfare handout changes and increased pressure on households leading to relationship breakdowns.
John Handley, chief executive of homeless charity The Bridge Trust, said the issue was already becoming a bigger problem across the country and blamed "devastating cuts and changes" to welfare.
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His organisation has seen an increase in the number of people it has dealt with. In 2011-2012 the charity helped 49 people into accommodation, up from 39 people the previous year.
Mr Handley said: "There is an enormous amount of pressure on households due to ever-reducing jobs and increasing costs."
The borough council's housing strategy to 2017 predicted homelessness would rise due to changes in legislation and "as a result of the regeneration work".
Referring to the latter point, one man who lives at the YMCA, identified only as Ian, said: "There's not a lot of accommodation around here and then there's a lot being lost in Sherwood and Rusthall. People are struggling because of that.
"There are more people on the street here than people realise and I think it's going to increase. There's just no accommodation."
The borough council has seen an increase in the number of homelessness applications, where people declare themselves unable to remain in their home, and a rise in the number of people requiring emergency accommodation.
Its housing options manager Jane Rogers said: "There are a number of factors that are causing the increase, the main one being the current economic climate which has led to unemployment and families being under additional strain. This leads to more relationship breakdowns.
"Another factor is welfare reform – when the effects of the Welfare Reform Act start to be felt in the next year or so we believe we will see more homelessness among people who cannot afford their rent, in both the private and social rented sector."
In a bid to tackle homelessness the council plans to improve links with private landlords, increase specialist advice, develop closer links to social services, improve housing advice available to young people, make presentations in schools, continue working with local churches to support the winter shelter scheme, and monitor the effect of welfare changes and affordable homes allocation.
A lack of affordable housing in the affluent West Kent area is also a factor which could impact on homelessness. The West Kent Homelessness Strategy for 2011 to 2016, drawn up by councils in Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Sevenoaks, predicted a shortfall of 1,368 affordable homes in the area for the next 14 years.
The Bridge Trust has seen an increase in the number of people it has helped find accommodation, and between April and June, usually a quiet time of the year, had a constant waiting list for beds.
Homeless charity Porchlight, which provides supported housing in Tonbridge, echoed concerns over more homelessness and rough sleeping.
In 2011 a rough sleeping count found nine people sleeping on the streets in Tunbridge Wells. Tonbridge currently has seven.
Chris Coffey, strategic manager for the rough sleeper team, said: "The decline from a stable home environment can take a long time but combining current financial pressures with other issues such as mental ill health or alcohol dependency will see many relationships break down and individuals left with no option but to sleep rough."