Senior Worthing councillors reject motion to prevent ‘mass homelessness’ claiming ‘this is work we’re already doing’

Senior Worthing councillors have rejected a motion to prevent ‘mass homelessness’ as they say that the council is ‘already doing a lot’ of the things it asked for.

The motion was submitted by Labour councillor Emma Taylor (Heene) and asked Worthing Borough Council to support the Big Issue charity’s plan to ‘stop mass homelessness’.

It also asked the council to write to heads of government departments about the issue;  support a Wellbeing of Future Generations Act and commission a report exploring how to expand social housing and housing stock.

During a speech to the joint strategic committee on Tuesday (January 11), Ms Taylor said: “Thousands of families are facing evictions and repossessions as measures put in place during covid have come to an end.

Rough sleeping

“Universal Credit has reduced by 20 pounds per week, the furlough scheme has finished and electricity and gas prices continue to rise at an alarming rate.”

She claims that demand for food parcels in Worthing has ‘rocketed’ as ‘residents reported having to choose between eating and heating’.

Ms Taylor said that, while rough sleeper counts in the borough were ‘relatively low’, they only showed the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and did not account for the ‘hidden homeless’ who may be unable to leave the family home, sleeping in abandoned buildings or ‘sofa surfing’.

“We are in a situation where we have so many people in emergency and homeless supported accommodation with no viable move options,” she added.

“Everyone deserves a safe home and even one person sleeping outside is one too many.”

A freedom of information request showed that the number of Worthing  households living in temporary accommodation reached a seven year high in September.

West Sussex homelessness charity Turning Tides estimated that, at the time, 1,000 people are living in temporary and emergency accommodation across the county ‘for the first time ever’.

The charity cited a shortage of temporary accommodation, limited affordable housing and rising numbers of people becoming homeless following the pandemic as reasons for the surge.

But Conservative councillors say WBC has been doing a lot of work to address homelessness both in the short and long term.

Deputy council leader Ed Crouch (Marine) said: “Without wanting to sound complacent, or to undermine the validity or the thrust of it, this is an example of a motion that is asking the council to do a huge number of things that, in many ways, we are already doing.”

A former housing officer, Mr Crouch said it was ‘vital’ that the council continued to work with ‘strategic partners’ to deliver affordable homes.

He mentioned a 2019 deal made between WBC, IKEA and Skanska to make affordable flats available within its Durrington Boklok scheme.

These views were shared by council leader Kevin Jenkins (Con, Gaisford) who said that the council’s work to help ‘struggling or in crisis families’ is ‘ongoing’.

Sean McDonald (Con, Northbrook) said he had experienced homelessness and wished he had ‘the support offered by the council’ at the time.

“I’ve personally had to help two people and they were staggered at the support available,” he said.

 Mr McDonald mentioned the opening doors project which sees the council acting as a letting agent so it can provide housing to those who would otherwise need temporary accommodation.

It is part of the council’s housing strategy for 2020- 2023 and, as of October, 66 properties were available through opening doors with 21 more expected.

Labour group leader Beccy Cooper (Marine) expressed disappointment following the motion’s defeat.

“We need actions not words. This motion set out concrete steps that the council could take to end homelessness in Worthing,” she said.

“The fact that the Conservatives were ‘sympathetic’ to this motion yet voted it down shows that they are all style and no substance.

“We need to invest in preventative measures to keep people in their homes whilst providing truly affordable housing and additional emergency and temporary accommodation.”

In the run up to Christmas, Adur and Worthing Councils activated Severe Weather Emergency Protocols (SWEP) which saw accommodation offered to all rough sleepers.

The councils also promised that ‘no one will be left without a roof over their head this Christmas or the colder months that follow’ after receiving a £23,000 windfall from central government.

A council spokesperson said that the number of rough sleepers had ‘risen significantly’ in the month after pandemic eviction bans ended.