Region's homeless problem revealed

A CHARITY is demanding urgent action from the Government after shock figures showed the number of homeless families in the region has more than doubled to 8,000 in the past eight years.

By Danielle Nuttall

A CHARITY is demanding urgent action from the Government after shock figures showed the number of homeless families in the region has more than doubled to 8,000 in the past eight years.

New figures show there were 505 homeless people and families living in emergency temporary accommodation in Suffolk at the end of June - an increase of 130% since 1997 - while in Essex there were 3,674.

Homeless charity Shelter said an estimated 2,000 households in Suffolk are also living in overcrowded conditions, which means children are having to share bedrooms with their parents or are forced to sleep in lounges, dining rooms or kitchens due to lack of space.

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In Essex, the figure is expected to be much higher with 7,000 families having to cope with cramped living conditions.

Shelter puts the problems down to a “chronic” shortage of affordable homes for rent and a lack of family-sized council and housing association accommodation.

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Families or individuals in emergency accommodation will typically be living in self-contained bed-sits leased in the private sector, local authority housing let on a temporary basis, bed and breakfast hotels or hostels.

The charity says an additional 7,000 new socially rented homes need to be built in the east of England between 2008-11 - on top of what the Government has already promised - to tackle the crisis and is preparing to hand over a petition to Chancellor Gordon Brown next month.

Adam Sampson, director of Shelter, said: “The health, education and future chances of thousands of youngsters in East Anglia are being blighted by cramped conditions that have more in common with the Dickensian era than those of a modern, thriving city.

“More than a year since legislation was passed making it possible to modernise our antiquated overcrowding laws, the Government must urgently publish its proposals for updating them. But most importantly of all, Gordon Brown must fund the social rented family-sized homes this country needs to end the misery of overcrowding.”

The Tendring district of Essex alone had 356 homeless people or families living in temporary accommodation at the end of June, while in Ipswich there were 223, Colchester 256, Chelmsford 110 and Suffolk Coastal 87.

A spokesman for Tendring District Council said: “The totals move around quite a bit. We currently have 321 homeless families on our books and it's going down.”

Richard Bird, service manager for housing advisory services at Ipswich Borough Council, said: “We have made significant inroads in reducing temporary accommodation, but the underlying problem is there is a lack of affordable housing - that's still certainly the case in Ipswich.”

A spokesman for Shelter said while the greatest number of homeless people lived in urban areas, the number of those living in temporary accommodation in rural areas was rising three times as fast.

The charity's survey Full House?, which looks at the effects of overcrowding in social housing, revealed children have to share a bedroom with their parents in almost three quarters of overcrowded families.

It also reports that one in 10 families in cramped housing has teenagers of the opposite sex sleeping in the same room because there is no room.

Yvette Cooper, housing minister for the Government, said: “Overcrowding is a symptom of a shortage of housing supply which the Government is addressing through major investment and policies to increase the numbers of affordable homes for sale or rent.

“We are encouraging councils and housing associations to adopt practical measures, some of which Shelter have identified.

“For example, bringing empty homes back into use, tackling under occupancy and improving opportunities for individuals to move to areas which have less acute housing pressures.”

People can sign up to Shelter's campaign by logging on to by November 7.

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