‘Generosity’ of people in west Suffolk may affect homeless numbers, council warns

Councils in west Suffolk have warned of a homelessness increase Picture: PHIL MORLEY

Councils in west Suffolk have warned of a homelessness increase Picture: PHIL MORLEY - Credit: Archant

The generosity of people in west Suffolk and access to key services like hospitals and probation could be down to increasing numbers of homelessness, according to council bosses.

A fresh homelessness reduction strategy was presented to St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s overview and scrutiny committee on Wednesday, where concerns were raised over the increasing number of homelessness applications, and above national average figures.

Latest data showed there were 29 rough sleepers in the west of the county – seven of whom were in Forest Heath and 22 who were in St Edmundsbury, while the increase was greater than the rate seen elsewhere.

Those in the council overseeing the issue said most of these were in Bury St Edmunds – and the generosity of people may be part of the reason why.

Davina Howes, assistant director of families and communities, said: “A&E, police and probation – these naturally attract people here. Some people who are begging aren’t homeless but people are very generous [in west Suffolk], so that’s something we are working with Drop In and other agencies on.”

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Council officers said bed spaces had been cut by 30% in April 2017, which had caused an impact on its ability to accommodate people, and said that some rough sleepers had exhausted their options.

Changes to homelessness legislation means councils are required to adopt a strategy from April 2019, which west Suffolk says will allow it to start finding solutions earlier, and where possible prevent someone declaring themselves homeless.

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Threatening with homelessness must now be extended to 56 days from 28, meaning the council can help earlier and individualised plans will be drawn up to help people based on their needs.

The overview and scrutiny committee approved the draft strategy, which will go to cabinet later in the month for final approval.

Diane Hind, chairman of the committee said: “Clearly we understand the people who are homeless, and essentially we are doing as much as we practically can.”

Councillor Paul Hopfensperger said there was a perception from the public that there was not anything being done, but added: “People need to know we are doing something.”

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