More investment is needed in housing after a rise in the number of Eastbourne families living in emergency accommodation, council leaders have said.
According to a report discussed Eastbourne Borough Council’s Liberal Democrat cabinet on Wednesday (March 20), 192 local households were living in emergency bed and breakfast accommodation by the end of the third quarter of 2018/19.
Cabinet members heard how the figure reflects a national rise in the number of homelessness applications, but were also an increase on the previous quarter and well above the council’s target of 80 households or fewer.
For Cllr Alan Shuttleworth, the council’s lead member for housing, the rise showed further investment is needed in affordable housing within the town by the authority.
He said: “If we don’t borrow to invest in accommodation and help people get out of the difficulties they are in then the situation gets worse.
“It would not only cost this council and the council taxpayers more money, it would cost those individuals more because they are not getting into permanent accommodation.
“I am proud of the fact that, as a council, we have put it as a top priority to deal with the issue of investment in housing for people who desperately need help.
“I’m not shying away from the fact it is right for us to use the borrowing powers we have – at the moment favourable borrowing powers – for us to invest in housing for the people in our town who need it.”
While councils can claim back some of the cost of emergency accommodation from government, the refund rarely covers the full price of a room in a bed and breakfast. As a result, councils around the country have been subsidising the cost of housing homeless families from their core budget.
According to council papers, this had cost Eastbourne Borough Council at least £343,000 by the end of Q3 2018/29.
Cllr Stephen Holt, the council’s lead member for financial services, said: “The single biggest threat to this council’s finances and the one that is the most unpredictable is the homelessness situation.
“If there are more homeless families it is a tragedy for our country, but it also financially has a huge impact on our town.
“It is one that is very hard to deal with, but one on which our team and this council works so hard over so many months and years to address.”
The council has brought forward a number of schemes both to prevent people becoming homeless and find permanent homes for those living in emergency accommodation.
According to the report, the average time an Eastbourne household spends living in emergency accommodation has fallen over the last year, down from 12 months in December 2017 to nine-and-a-half at the end of the last quarter.
But the demand for places continues to grow – with 78 new households entering emergency accommodation and only 35 moving out within Q3 2018/19.
The numbers were also affected by the council triggering its Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) several times this winter.
The protocol provides emergency accommodation for rough sleepers when the ‘feels like’ temperature drops below zero degrees Celsius. The council says seven people were provided emergency accommodation during the time SWEP was in place.