To receive a presentation from the Housing Options Service Manager, Suzannah Hellicar on the work of the Housing Options Team and the impacts of the pandemic.
The Committee welcomed the Housing Options Service Manager, Suzannah Hellicar, to give an update on the work of the Housing Options Team and in particular the impacts of COVID-19.
Ms Hellicar, advised that as Service Manager she had responsibility for housing, homelessness, housing options and private sector housing. The move to remote working had meant that home visits and face to face interviews had been restricted but the Team had been able to provide a full service to its customers during the previous twelve months. A challenge for the Team had been keeping in contact with some of their homeless clients and mobile phone had been provided to a number of these individuals which had assisted with this issue. A big positive to come from the pandemic had been the partnership working, organisations and charities had come together to provide for those in need at this difficult time and the Team had adapted amazingly to the challenges faced.
In March 2020, the Government instructed local authorities to accommodate all rough sleepers, through the “Everyone In” scheme. Locally 150 vulnerable people had been accommodated and a benefit to come from this had been engagement with some individuals who had previously refused help. Some challenges resulting from the scheme had been anti-social behaviour, costs of accommodation and future accommodation options. It was noted that VIVID Housing Association had provided significant support during this time.
The Committee was advised of the outreach work that had taken place. It was noted that some individuals had refused the offer of accommodation and the Team had provided PPE, food parcels, sleeping bags, support and continued offers of accommodation during the height of the pandemic. It was report that four individuals had remained on the street.
It was advised that the eviction ban on private and social tenants was expected to remain in place until May, 2021.The Team had been working with landlords and tenants to resolve issues and were proactively looking to provide alternative accommodation where possible in cases where eviction was pending and matters couldn’t be resolved.
Ms Hellicar explained the Housing First project, a scheme being carried out in partnership with Two Saints and VIVID Housing Associations to house the Boroughs most vulnerable residents. In April 2021, five units, provided by VIVID, would be available for use in this project. The Council would identify individuals who would benefit the most from the scheme and Two Saints would deliver the intensive support required to each resident. It was noted that an application had been made for five additional properties through the Rough Sleeper Fund.
Moving forward, it was noted that a small team would return to the office in April, 2021 to deal with demand. It was thought that demand would relate to eviction, the rise in unemployment figures and relationship and mental health breakdown. A new customer online portal and software package was also planned to be introduced to assist with demand. In addition, it was noted that the Rough Sleeper Strategy was due to be presented to Cabinet in April, 2021 for adoption. The Team would also continue to build on the work with partners particularly around the development of the Temporary Accommodation Strategy.
The Committee discussed the presentation and raise a number of concerns. In response to a query regarding the numbers on the housing list it was noted that the Team had not seen a big influx, with the number remaining at around 1,400 – 1,500. It was thought this could increase as the situation evolved.
With regard to bed and breakfast accommodation, it was noted that the duration of a stay was limited wherever possible and suitable alternatives were sought quickly. Alternative accommodation, such as housing pods/containers, had been considered but it had been found that installation of services could be expensive depending on the site. However, if the right site became available this option could be considered moving forward.
Following a discussion on Clayton Court, it was noted that negotiations were underway to consider extending the lease on the property. It was advised that the site wasn’t always appropriate and options for alternative temporary accommodation were being considered to add to the portfolio of available temporary housing. It was noted that currently there were two empty rooms in Clayton Court.
The Chairman congratulated and thanked Ms Hellicar and her team for the work they had carried out over the past twelve months.