Councils urged to take action to stem rise in homelessness.

    Councils need to take preventive action to halt the rise in
    homelessness, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has
    warned.

    Andy Gale, specialist adviser at the homelessness and housing
    support directorate, told delegates to “stop hiding behind a lack
    of affordable housing”.

    Official figures released last week reveal that the number of
    homeless households accepted for re-housing in the first three
    months of 2004 fell by 1 per cent compared with the same period
    last year.

    Although the number of households in bed and breakfast
    accommodation has fallen 41 per cent since March 2003 – largely
    thanks to the introduction in April of new rules around placing
    families in B&Bs – the number of people in hostel accommodation
    has risen by 8 per cent in the same period.

    Gale said councils should seek to tackle the three key areas that
    cause between 70 and 80 per cent of homelessness: evictions for
    late rent payment, domestic violence, and relatives or friends no
    longer willing to accommodate. He said councils should provide rent
    deposit schemes, offer mediation services within seven days, and
    work in partnership to minimise the impact of domestic
    violence.

    Delegates heard of a NHS hospital (which cannot be named) where all
    staff are trained to spot and deal with domestic violence.
    Extending the scheme to the maternity unit has helped a significant
    number of women to find new homes and break the cycle of
    violence.

    However, delegates highlighted one major government inconsistency.
    Stockton-on-Tees councillor Suzanne Fletcher said that the
    government fostered the popular view that people in social housing
    caused antisocial behaviour. “That perpetuates homelessness because
    they are perceived as too high risk for other housing
    associations,” Fletcher said.

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