Funding for homeless people in St Helens is 'drop in the ocean'

St Helens Town Hall
St Helens Town Hall
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A £200,000 cash boost to combat homelessness in St Helens is an “insult”, a senior councillor has said.

In 2016 the Government announced a £50 million fund for trailblazing new homelessness prevention schemes across the country, including targeted support for those at risk of rough sleeping.

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St Helens Council has secured £200,000 from the fund via the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, to develop its outreach services over the next two years

This week at the People’s Board, Coun Marlene Quinn said the money was a “drop in the ocean”.

Coun Quinn said: “Even if St Helens got the whole amount, it’s a damned insult really when you look at the amount of people in our town that are trying to earn a living, trying to provide for their families.

“I just think that sooner or later, somebody has got to sit up because it is affecting families, health, education – it’s a vicious circle.

“Before we know where we are, they’re classed as deprived communities or deprived families, and they weren’t at one time.

“And it’s all because of austerity.”

Stephen Tracey, the council’s head of housing and neighbourhoods, said there has been an “exponential increase” in homelessness across the country.

Mr Tracey said the impact of austerity, particularly the welfare benefit changes that have been introduced since 2010, have “undoubtedly exacerbated the problem”.

Universal credit, the biggest change to the welfare state in a generation, has come in for fierce criticism since it began being rolled out in 2013.

Additionally, the National Audit Office has reported that a succession of reforms to welfare benefit entitlements are “not coincidental” to rises in homelessness.

A council report said the government has received “trenchant criticism” for its failure to address increases in homelessness and its lack of a coherent strategy for tackling the problem.

In response, the Government introduced the Homelessness Reduction Act, the most important piece of homelessness legislation in 40 years, which came into effect last April.

The act places new duties on local authorities to intervene earlier to prevent homelessness and has extended the council’s responsibilities to provide help to all eligible households.

Mr Tracey described the Government’s strategic response as “belated” and “limited”.

The council’s five-year homelessness strategy, which was approved by cabinet in November, focuses on intervening earlier and delivering better prevention.

Mr Tracey added that work is ongoing at a Liverpool City Region level to develop a housing-first model, aimed at people who lead “chaotic lifestyles and complex needs”.

Housing first is an approach that offers permanent, affordable housing as quickly as possible for individuals and families experiencing homelessness.

Individuals are then provided support to keep their housing and avoid returning to homelessness.

Mr Tracey said it is hoped this model will be up and running across the city region within the next three months.

Council leader Derek Long revealed that he met James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local, last week in London to discuss issues around homelessness.

The Labour leader said he emphasised that the Government needs to “hold its nerve” and continue Trailblazer funding beyond 2020.

Coun Long said: “It’s all very well intervening briefly, but it would be a travesty if they start off a pilot and they don’t see it to its logical conclusion, which will involve a lot more money.

“It’s good the Government’s spotted that there’s an issue, great that money’s being allocated to the city region, great the city region is engaging the way it is engaging.

“However, that money needs to flow and that’s down to central government.”