Dickensian Medway: A Home for Christmas

In which Keevil revisits the cheerful subject of homelessness, specifically with the added theme of children and Christmas.

Click this link if you are at risk of homelessness 

A ‘national scandal’ was how the Shelter report described the number of people aged under 18 without a permanent home. It’s investigation of people living in emergency B&Bs and hostels found families sharing a single room, with 25% of those families having no access to a kitchen. More then a third of parents were sharing a bedroom with children.

Imagine living in a noisy strange place full of people you don’t know.
Polly Neate, Shelter Chief Executive.

According to charity Centrepoint, Medway had the highest number of homeless people aged 16-24 in the county with 84 and an additional 224 receiving support for homelessness. 

The biggest cause of youth homelessness is family breakdown. There are lots of complex issues that can lead to a young person needing to leave home, because it’s not a safe place for them to be.

The number of children who face being homeless this Christmas has more then trebled in five years.

The problem is at its worst in Medway where almost 1 in 100 under 17 year olds are living in temporary accommodation, putting the towns amongst the top 50 in the country. And not in a good way. 

Long time fans of the blog will know Keevil and Jennings are longer time fans of the West Wing, and don’t need much excuse to quote or show clips from the show.

“Code of our humanity.. which says we should give our children better then we ourselves received’
Jed Bartlett, written by Aaron Sorkin

The Children

Medway Council are clear that they are committed to helping Medway’s most vulnerable families find permanent accommodation and are trying to prevent people from becoming homeless. They commission a range of support and accommodation all year round to help people with nowhere to live.

The figures expressed above are a direct correlation between the number of households in temporary accommodation, ie, some households may have more than one child. The majority of these households are in accommodation which is self-contained, ie. they have access to their own facilities and they are located in Medway. 

The recent figures on children who are homeless and living in temporary accommodation across Medway is unacceptable and this is a situation that we need to get in hand immediately. We know that being homeless can have a huge impact on children’s educational outcomes and general well-being. It is, therefore, vital that Medway Council communicated with all agencies to ensure these families are getting the support they need, and that any disruption is minimised.
A chronic shortage in council housing is part of the problem, as well as a largely unregulated rental market, which has seen rents go up extortionately. Medway council needs to work closely with national government to review this issue as a matter of urgency.
Naushabah Khan, Labour councillor, Gillingham South

It is shocking but equally of no surprise to hear of so many homeless children in Medway, a figure which will include homeless young people known as “sofa surfers” and children in temporary accommodation. In previous years we have reported on adult street homeless people over the Christmas period, the numbers of whom have typically been grossly underestimated, but I believe that this is the first year that the shockingly high numbers of homeless children in Medway has been highlighted and this shines a light on the wide ranging impact of policies that exclude vulnerable people from stable and secure housing at a time of great need.
In the short term, the Council must do all they can to ensure that temporary accommodation is as comfortable and secure as possible. Forcing families to live in one room bed and breakfast accommodation, sometimes sharing a single bed is intolerable. We shouldn’t be asking that of anyone.  The stress on families and long term effects on children from living in accommodation that doesn’t meet their needs cannot be underestimated. It is also incumbent on the local authority to do their job properly and not tie homeless people up with red tape linked to a failing Tory benefit system that is putting young and old lives at risk.
Every empty property in Medway should be considered for use as housing, including renovation of buildings and converting disused warehouses and hospitals etc. Every spare space must be considered to get people off the streets. 
In the long term, the Council must ensure that stable accommodation is available to everyone through an increase in supply of truly affordable rentable housing. This should be the first concern of the Council but instead it is overly reliant on the market to provide new housing which simply means more homes that the majority of local people cannot afford to live in, while homeless figures rise, alongside a growth in private rented housing that is expensive and insecure.  A change in Government policy to remove the cap on borrowing so Local Authorities can once again build their own homes must finally lead to a change in Medway Council’s direction.
Sonia Hyner, Medway Green Party 

The figures are likely to be an underestimate of the problem.
The government’s Homelessness Reduction Act came into force in May with the aim of forcing local authorities to take steps to prevent households at risk from falling into homelessness. In Medway, the Liberal Democrats would like to see help given to those affected with the impact of spiralling rents, welfare cuts and a total lack of social housing.
The failure to build sufficient homes is affecting Kent as much as anywhere else. Medway needs to see a rise in affordable homes to buy and rent being built, but not just here in the Medway towns but across the country, as well to alleviate the affects of welfare cuts and the freezing of housing benefit. The failure to supply sufficient levels of social housing over a long period of time means that the most vulnerable people need help and support to get housed. 
The Liberal Democrats Conference passed a motion calling for the Government to ensure everyone has a right to affordable, safe and secure homes in England and reiterated the Liberal Democrats commitment to build 300,000 homes a year over the next decade, and called for better environmental standards for housing across the UK.

To tackle the housing crisis, the Liberal Democrats are calling for a large programme to rebuild social housing stock, and alleviating the insecurity faced by tenants in the private rented sector such as through giving tenants a minimum of six months’ notice before they have to leave the property.
Alan Wells, Medway Liberal Democrats

Landlords

Medway Council intends that this Christmas card reminds their tenants of the importance of keeping up to date with rent payments at a time of year when there are a number of other pressures on people’s money. Whether or not sending out a card that threatens tenants with eviction if they don’t pay their rent at Christmas is helpful remains open for debate.

The card sent out by Medway Council’s Landlord Services Team is highly insensitive and demonstrates complete lack of understanding of the pressures low income families are under, particularly at a time when a large proportion of the population are flooding the shopping aisles buying Christmas presents for their children. It is certainly the wrong time for such a cruel warning. There is often talk of teaching people to budget properly which grossly underestimates the difficulties that families on low incomes face in meeting day to day expenditures.  
We also need to ask, where are families who suffer the trauma of eviction meant to go? Where will they live? An increase of families in inadequate temporary accommodation is surely not a solution.
The card sent out by Medway Council’s Landlord Services Team is highly insensitive and demonstrates complete lack of understanding of the pressures low income families are under, particularly at a time when a large proportion of the population are flooding the shopping aisles buying Christmas presents for their children. It is certainly the wrong time for such a cruel warning. There is often talk of teaching people to budget properly which grossly underestimates the difficulties that families on low incomes face in meeting day to day expenditures.  
We also need to ask, where are families who suffer the trauma of eviction meant to go? Where will they live? An increase of families in inadequate temporary accommodation is surely not a solution.

Medway Green Party

Support

Medway council does provide a range of support throughout the year to people with nowhere to live, as well as those who are at risk of losing their home. Whether or not this is adequate for the scale of problem in Medway is debatable.

The council has been awarded almost £1 million to further support its work to support rough sleepers. Medway has been given £410,000 from the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government for the 2018/2019 financial year and a further £486,000 for the 2019/2020 financial year. Since receiving this funding in July 2018, the council has worked with partner agencies to help 46 additional rough sleepers find suitable accommodation.

Medway Council claims to work closely with partner agencies in the Homelessness Forum and the extra funding helps to ensure further provisions are in place. This includes an outreach group to engage with rough sleepers, with an emphasis on supporting women, couples and people, including those who have recently come out of prison. The Homelessness Forum is made up of several organisations, including the police, health services, housing providers, local charities and support workers.

Staff from the council’s Rough Sleeping Initiative and partners regularly visit areas across Medway to see who is sleeping rough and offer advice and assistance. During the last formal count in November 2018, 19 people were found sleeping rough. This number will perhaps seem questionable to anyone who has walked through any of Medway’s town centres in the past year.

The Homelessness Forum also works together during periods of extreme weather to tell as many rough sleepers as they can that accommodation is immediately available to them. The Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) is implemented when the night-time temperatures are predicted to be freezing. However, help is available all year round at Kingsley House in Gillingham – this includes specialist support on the issues that can cause people to become homeless, such as debts and rent arrears.

We are committed to helping the most vulnerable people in our communities and supporting those with nowhere to live. We commission a range of support and advice throughout the year to help people who are homeless and those who are facing homelessness. Thank you to all the agencies in the Homelessness Forum, as well as local charities, for your support and all you do. We will continue to work together to encourage anyone who is homeless or in need of support to visit Kingsley House in Gillingham and seek the help and advice that is on offer.
Cllr Howard Doe, Medway Council Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Services

One Big Family and local churches have been doing excellent work to support the homeless, throughout the year, and particularly during the winter months. However, it should not be left to charities to pick up the pieces left by austerity
Cllr Naushabah Khan, Labour councillor, Gillingham South

There numerous charities and volunteers in Medway who are actively committed to helping the homelessness in Medway. Medway Liberal Democrats would like to mention the work done by MRS Lettings CIC who are a ‘Community Interest Company’ (CIC) in Partnership with Second Chance, Housing Support Charity.
The charity operates a Community Hub in Chatham High Street which provides a focal point and facilities in bringing tenants, landlords, local business and smaller charity and ‘not for profit’ organisations together to improve the quality of life in the community.
The charity advocates independent lives, helping individuals to build skills and create routes out of poverty and social isolation whilst working in the community for the community. The Hub provides free support, education and housing advice for the homeless as well as those threatened with homelessness, and to halt the revolving door of evictions, as well as offering tenancy and housing support to establish independent living in the community.
If you’re interested or need help, MRS is located at its new address
MRS CIC & Second Chance Housing Support Charity
Medway Community Hub
105 High Street
Chatham Kent ME4 4DH
Medway Liberal Democrats

It doesn’t matter how impartial this blog is. At the end of the day, we are talking about children. It shouldn’t matter your politics. 

Feel free to leave a comment, a FB post or tweet.

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