Council aims to stop homeless being shipped out of area – and save money

Gary Jefferies

A PROPERTY bought by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) in Paddock Wood has received planning permission for renovations which will provide ’emergency’ housing for the homeless.
This will allow them to stay in the area and be close to their families, jobs and schools rather than being shipped out to other parts of the south-east.
Dowding House on Commercial Road is set to provide 18 flats for that purpose along with seven ‘affordable’ apartments for private rental to local people.
However, it will not provide immediate shelter for rough sleepers who are not known to the council and identified as being in ‘priority need’.
TWBC bought the premises from the Town & Country Housing Association last month. It was built in the late 1970s as a facility for elderly people.
The local authority says it faces a significant demand for temporary accommodation for homeless households pending a decision on whether a homeless duty is owed.
The council has a statutory duty to provide such a service for people with ‘priority need’ – families with dependent children, the elderly, victims of domestic violence and people who have been in local authority care.
Currently they have to be housed in bed and breakfast accommodation, which can prove costly for the council who believe the new building will offer ‘significant revenue saving’.
The planning application stated: “Due to a lack of suitable emergency housing in this borough, homeless families are often placed in other areas such as Eastbourne or the Medway towns.
“Being able to remain in this area is a better solution for vulnerable families who will be nearer to their support networks, schools and employment.”

‘There is more to homelessness than just those
who the council has a legal duty to house’

The plight of the homeless in the borough was highlighted last month by the murder of Giles Metcalfe, who was sleeping rough in Torrington car park in Tunbridge Wells.
He had approached The Bridge Trust, a charity based in Tonbridge which helps the homeless, but had to go on a waiting list because there was not enough space in the trust’s premises.
John Handley, the trust’s Chief Executive, described the initiative as a ‘great benefit’ but he warned that more needs to be done for those in immediate need.
He said: “The council has to put people up until they can find suitable, long-term social housing for them, and currently this could be in a B&B out of the area where it is affordable, so Folkestone, Bexhill or the like. This can be terrible for families, so to have somewhere in the Borough is fantastic for them.
“So I applaud the council for using some of its undoubted wealth to buy the property and use it for this purpose. However, there is more to homelessness than just those who the council has a legal duty to house.”
He added: “For those who fall outside of the statutory definition of being in ‘priority need’ – single adults for instance – there is still no emergency accommodation available and they won’t have any access to Dowding House.
“It should be a borough obligation, county obligation and indeed a national obligation to provide similar help to all those who are homeless.
“But until the law changes to force councils to do this, there will always be a lot of people who have to fall back on the woefully insufficient, charitable help from people like us.”

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