The winners and losers in poverty trap

Coun Chris Ready
Coun Chris Ready

WIGAN’S economic and housing crisis reveals a bitter-sweet picture as more people are being saved from losing their homes, yet additional families are desperately seeking welfare help.

While the number of homeless “preventions” in the borough has almost doubled from 1,404 in 2012/13, to 2,777 a year later, there were 1,586 presentations to the borough’s crisis and welfare desks (380 of them repeat visitors) between July and November last year alone.

The majority of those had no money or food, 189 said they were homeless and were “sofa surfing”, 283 had no gas or electricity and 45 had recently been released from prison.

Yet, there are fewer residents presenting themselves as homeless to the council’s services, with 616 in 2012/13 and 541 in 2013/14. The current figure from April to September 2014 stands at 204, which shows a 25 per cent reduction on the same period for the previous year, compared with a one per cent reduction nationally.

The number of families who are accepted as homeless from April to September last year was 88, which is similar to the same timescale in 2013/14, and better than the four per cent national increase.

The number of rough sleepers has dropped, from 15 in 2012/13 to 13 in 2013/14. Between April and September last year there have been seven people forced onto the streets.

This has been largely due to the council’s No Second Night Out partnership with The Brick, Wigan and Leigh Housing and Riverside supported housing group, which has prevented 126 people from spending a second night out on the street last year.

The council’s 12-month homelessness multiple-needs pilot which supports people with complex social and learning difficulties who are at risk of having no home, has successfully helped 15 residents.

The number of residents in temporary accommodation at the end of the year remained reasonably consistent, with 27 in 2012/13 and 30 in 2013/14. By last September there were 18 people, with the average length of stay being 69 days.

Most homeless people are aged between 25 and 44, with four people aged over 60.

The need for emergency B&B accommodation has dropped significantly, with no bookings at all between April and September 2014.

Work to reduce people living on the streets or in temporary accommodation has been carried out through the council’s Homelessness Strategy. Wigan was awarded £70,000 from the DCLG single homelessness fund, which has enabled it to work with some of the hardest-to-reach people, who often have complex needs.

Teams have been working with local partners, including health, the voluntary sector and probation services to provide a more integrated approach.

The council aims to relaunch its young persons’ homelessness strategy in the next few months. It is also working to support people who are being released from hospital or prison with no fixed abode.

Last April, Crisis awarded Wigan Housing Solutions £20,000 over two years to deliver shared accommodation in the private rented sector, which was dependent on match funding from the council.

The council has also gained recognition from the National Practitioner Support Service and the DCLG and was the second authority in the country to receive bronze status on the Gold Standard Programme. It is now working towards gold.

Coun Chris Ready, portfolio holder for housing, said: “Due to the adoption of a preventative approach and very close working with a range of other agencies we are seeing improvements in tackling homelessness in the borough.

“Particular successes have been the No Second Night Out programme and being the second council in the country to be awarded status for its services.

“But there are continued challenges such as welfare reform, mortgage repossessions and the increasing demand for services. Again through joint working we aim to meet challenges and to improve services to residents.”