Councillors in South Tyneside are set to call for improvements to services to help still further homeless people and those at risk of becoming homeless.
Although the Council does a great deal of work to prevent homelessness, the People Select Committee carried out a Commission into homelessness to see if the work currently undertaken is fit for purpose. This is essential in light of a predicted increase in demand for the service and to ensure the Council is prepared for the new Homelessness Reduction Act which comes into force this April. Under the new Act local housing authorities will have a responsibility to help all eligible applicants, rather than just those with a priority need.
A report to Members highlights that although homelessness has risen nationally, South Tyneside has only four rough sleepers with whom council officers are in regular contact.
The report adds, however, that rough sleepers only account for a small percentage of the problem with many more people living with friends or relatives, in temporary accommodation or unable to afford the property they live in.
However, the number of people presenting themselves to the Homefinder service in South Tyneside has recently fallen which is likely to be as a result of the homelessness prevention work carried out by the Council and South Tyneside Homes.
In their recommendations councillors are calling for greater distinction to be made between the different categories of homeless people.
While recognising the good working relationships the Council has with other organisations in this field, Members are keen for the Council to lead on a project with partners to ensure data is shared so that the needs of homeless people can be better understood.
One of the recommendations is for a protocol with neighbouring authorities for the use and licensing of Homes of Multiple Occupation as it was recognised that these properties are sometimes in a poor state of repair. Members have also called for a review of South Tyneside Homes stock to ensure these properties are used ahead of the private rented sector.
Chair of the People Select Committee, Councillor John McCabe, said: "We have very few rough sleepers in the Borough but in many ways, the issue of homelessness is a hidden problem and is an issue which is very difficult to predict.
"Under the new Act we will need to help all those who are homeless. To do this we need better recording procedures so that we can have a comprehensive picture of the level and type of homelessness in South Tyneside.
"While we already have good working relationships with other organisations in the field, by working together more closely we will be able to track individual cases more effectively. This will help us to address debt problems early on and prevent people from losing their home in the first place."
He added: "We recognise that having a home is about far more than just having shelter. A home provides roots, a sense of identity and emotional wellbeing. For all these reasons, we are committed to helping those who find themselves in the unfortunate position of being homeless."
The People Select Committee meeting will be held on Tuesday 20 February at 10am at South Shields Town Hall. All are welcome.