Luton in the grip of a homeless crisis

Luton Borough Council is urgently seeking options to solve the homeless 'crisis' that has gripped the town.

Last week, a new ‘Homelessness Prevention Strategy’ was approved by the council’s executive committee.

The five-year plan seeks to halve the number of people sleeping rough by 2021, with early intervention seeking to promote “education, employment, health and wellbeing”.

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Last year, the council spent £5m on temporary accommodation for the homeless.

Its own report stated: “Finding alternate temporary accommodation continues to cost the council significant sums of money.

“On average, we were seeing 300 customers each month through the Customer Services Centre.”

Under the Housing Act 1996, LBC has a legal duty to provide emergency accommodation to those deemed ‘unintentionally’ homeless and with priority need.

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The report added: “The number of households provided with temporary accommodation under this duty has increased over the past few years as the cost of private sector housing has increased and the supply of social housing has decreased.”

The five year Homelessness Prevention Strategy is a joint initiative with Luton Clinical Commissioning Group. Its primary course of action involves improved counselling services, debt advice, domestic violence support and drug & alcohol programmes to help avoid homelessness.

LBC states the strategy is also “influenced” by its Investment Framework – with plans for a new skills centre, 15,000 new jobs and over 5,000 new homes – to be delivered by 2025.

But Luton’s flagship homeless charity states the issue is more complex than a “contretemps” between the voluntary sector and the council.

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Jim O’Connor of charity Noah said: “The cuts being imposed ... by Government made it increasingly difficult to deliver services to those experiencing deprivation, if not destitution.

“Homelessness is one of the most extreme expressions of that poverty.

“Rough sleeper numbers have increased in Luton by 61% in 2015 compared to 2014. This is compounded by the incidence of Eastern European migrants who have no recourse to public funds.

“We opened our Academy just over two years ago to provide a bridge from the work experience we make available through our furniture and white goods restoration to employment. This has seen more than 200 people into employment.”

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And Mr O’Connor insistes more can be done. He added: “ The Department of Work and Pensions have huge potential to influence the progress of the hard-to-reach into employment. The National Health Service through Luton’s Clinical Commissioning Group can make dramatic impact on the health of the most vulnerable, particularly people discharged from hospital into homelessness and those who are homeless who have a demand on A&E services at least 7 times more than the average citizen.”